thoughts on life

Original Work Friday: More

I’m not the girl I used to be;

stronger in some ways,

weaker in others.

Old cracks have been repaired

while new ones split wide open.

The past has an impact,

it filters through time;

there is no escape

but I decide how to handle it,

to let it influence or ignore.

The future is now,

no time like the present

to become who I want to be

and to stay who I am,

to know my own worth.

I will still make mistakes,

I will still stumble and second-guess,

but I am in charge of my fate

and I have learned from before.

I am more than I was.

katME

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Live In Your Strength

Last night I received some cheesy but much needed advice…from a bag of tea. Yogi Tea Products puts inspirational notes on the tags of all of its tea bags and I’ve been trying to drink a cup of their “Detox” tea every day to help filter out some of the junk that lives in my body and immune system. Yesterday’s inspiration was the title of this post: Live In Your Strength.

What does this mean to me? This means being true to yourself and owning who you are, not letting other people talk you down or be ashamed of what you need to get through the day (even if it’s a hug and chocolate bar). Lately, I’ve been feeling a little like someone else is running my life and I have been running myself ragged to please them and not getting what I need in return, not a good feeling.

So I’m going to embrace who I am: a neurotic, OCD-filled, anxious, organized, perfectionist, detail-orientated, nerdy, affectionate, loyal person who gets in her own way a lot and doesn’t have as much confidence as she should.

And that’s OKAY.

I’m not perfect. I have flaws. And not everyone is going to be equipped to deal with them. And that’s okay. Because I have an amazing support system of people who love me and care about me and who genuinely want what is best for me. So the only people I need to think about other than myself is them.

My strength lies in my willingness to help and to take the lead, to reach out to others, my strive to succeed, my caring nature, my support for those I love, and my ability to push others and myself to be their best. My strength lies in navigating the world in such a way that works with my quirks, not against them. Yes, I am growing to be more flexible and patient. And this year, I have a goal to be more positive. But that’s doesn’t mean I have to change who I am entirely…or even all that much. Sometimes all I need is to take a deep breath, a step back, and look at the option that will play to my strength, not prey on my “weakness”.

How are you going to live in your strength?

Teen Topic Tuesday: Suicide

suicide

This week’s teen topic is one that I feel very strongly about, and no, it’s not for religious or moral reasons, it’s actually rather personal. As someone who has seen firsthand the affect that suicide can wreak on a family unit, I want to share some of that experience with you and attempt to make you understand why, regardless of what you think, it will have a resounding impact on those around you.

Suicide in teens (and anyone else for that matter) is a devastating thing. In today’s world of bullying and potentially shitty home lives, it seems that suicide might be the best option. And when it comes to depression or bipolar disorder, it might feel like it’s your only option. But it’s not. You might think that you are alone and no one can possibly understand what you’re going through but you’re wrong. There is someone out there who cares, whether you realize it or not. It might be a friend, a sibling, a parent, a cousin, a classmate, or even a teacher. You aren’t the only one to experience how you are feeling and giving up on life isn’t the solution. And if you’ve gone through all of those people and you are still depressed and still think that suicide is your only option because no one understands, then you are probably not talking to the right people.

Now, don’t think I’m writing this to reprimand you, in fact, I want to encourage you to not think of suicide as an option. I know that seeking help can be scary. As someone who has struggled for years with severe obsessive compulsive disorder (and no, that’s not just saying I have it in the sense that I am a compulsive cleaner or alphabetize my DVD collection, I have actually been diagnosed), I know how difficult it can be to admit, even to yourself, that something is wrong. I didn’t even know what I was feeling was OCD until I talked to my doctor. I’d suspected for years that I had a mild case but being diagnosed officially with it made me feel ashamed and less worthy to be around “normal” people because I had to be on medication to make my brain operate at a functional level. I didn’t even admit it to most of my friends or family until long after I had been diagnosed.

And while OCD might not be the same as depression, it actually a lot of the same markers: loss of interest, feeling overly tired, withdrawal, moodiness, frustration, anger, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, changes in your sleeping pattern. I experienced all of these things (plus anxiousness and panic attacks) because of a chemical imbalance. My first therapy session was uncomfortable, to say the least. I felt like I was being judged and misunderstood. Of course, that was about the time that I discovered that it can take a few tries to fit the right fit for a psychiatrist. But I didn’t give  up, even when I really wanted to because it was awkward and uncomfortable and disconcerting. Eventually, I found the pace and the medication dosage that worked for me (about 3-5 difficult months after my diagnosis) and I was glad that I didn’t just throw in the towel.

help

And in my younger years, like most teenagers, I contemplated the benefits of giving up on life when it got too hard or too stressful, especially with some of the things I experienced at home. And even at my lowest, most frustrating point, all it took to know that it wasn’t even a choice I could make was to remember how it had previously affected my family and how it would affect them if I chose to take my own life. I had a family member who took his own life and can remember the grief that ran through my family, even though I was quite young at the time. I had another family member who attempted suicide on several occasions and seeing her in the hospital was a terrifying experience. It threw into sharp relief what the consequences of those actions might be for me. Every time I felt desperate or depressed and felt like no one understood me and wanted to give up, I remembered how I felt when others had attempted or succeeded in taking their own lives. And it was not something I wanted to make others I cared about experience again. And still to this day, though it hasn’t happen in quite a long time, that’s all it would take for me to turn away from that path.

 

Why suicide is the most selfish thing you can do

While it might make you feel better, you are looking at the world through the lens of “me, me, me”, not even bothering to give a thought to how it will affect those who care about you and will be left behind to clean up the mess you’ve made, figuratively speaking. The people who will still be alive after you are gone will grieve and suffer for this choice. Whether you are a “nobody” and think that no one will notice, I’m here to say that someone will always notice when you are gone. It may not be your absentee father or your workaholic mother, your spiteful sister, your pain in the ass brother, your best friend turned enemy, the principle who thinks you are up to no good, or the friends you thought were real. But maybe it will be someone you didn’t even know you impacted. The grocery store worker you always smiled at, the sibling who looks up to you, the parent who loves you, the grandmother who has already lost more people than you realize, the friend who secretly wants to be back in your life, the teacher who think you have potential, the bus driver who knows you never cause any trouble, or the fish who is depending on you to feed him.

I know people say it all the time, but you have so much life ahead of you. High school is not the end-all, be-all that people think it is. High school is just 4 years of your life. And while people there might be cruel to you, there is probably a reason why. One that has more to do with them than it does with you. Kids can be mean but that doesn’t make them correct in their perception of you. Only you can give value to yourself and if you let their thoughts dictate your worth then you will never be happy. One opinion doesn’t make it the correct one. If you spend high school trying to find your identity instead of letting other people define it for you, then you will be much better off in the long run.

But where to begin? Whether it’s you or someone you know that you suspect is thinking about suicide, the best option is of course to talk to them, or try and convince them (or yourself) to talk to someone else. Anyone will pretty much do to start off with. Guidance counselor, teacher, principle, mutual friend, parent, or sibling. And if you would feel more comfortable talking to a stranger, there a plenty of hotlines (like the one below) that you can call and seek help. But the important thing is to open a dialogue. Communication is essential to the healing process. Don’t give up before you begin.

suicide hotlineRead this article for a slightly different opinion.


Along the same lines, I would like to mention celebrity suicides. A phenomenon that has been sweeping across the nation and is devastating so many fans along the way. One look at how people with unlimited access to the best this world can offer is enough to make you realize that fame and fortune aren’t enough to make someone happy. It makes me wonder if they were getting the help they needed or were too self-conscious to seek it out. And it goes further to prove my opinion that finding the help you need can be unnerving but worthwhile and that your self-worth is the one that matters the most. The more you let other people define you, the unhappier you might be in the long run.

So take a deep breath and pick up the phone, or walk downstairs, or down the hall and start the conversation that could save your life or the life of someone you love.

Or if you would like to talk more to me about this, my email is kataweb416@gmail.com

Is it just me…

disney hair twilight matcheddivergent

…or has the idea of love and romance been completely leveled by YA novels that everyone is delving into?

Not to say that I don’t appreciate, and in some cases LOVE them, but I think we need to take a minute to discuss the impact that these books might be having the delicate psyche of our pre-teens, teens, and young adults.

Much like the theory/meme about Disney and how it creates unrealistic hair expectations, I think most YA novels these days are showing young people who find “the one” or who find love at a very young age (Young compared to the average age of marriage in today’s society, which is in the late-20s for men and women in the US), which isn’t realistic. These characters are being handed a serious romantic encounter when they are in their mid-to-late teens (RE: Twilight, Divergent, Matched, City of Bones, The Fault in Our Stars, Shiver, Delirium, The Selection). And while it can be said that the majority of them handle it well (and in most cases have absentee or brainwashed parents that can’t or don’t complain), isn’t that sending a message worth discussing to the readers of these novels?

Has this idea of serious young love become popular because it is a lovely fairy tale that we wish would be true in the real world? That everyone could find their perfect mate and live happily ever after (and not have a sky-rocketing divorce rate). Or is it because YA authors are trying to become so far removed from the societal norm and change the views on love and romance? Or that normal societal rules don’t exist in a post-apocalyptic world? (I’ll be discussing love triangles in a later post.)

And what is the effect on the youth of today? While teen pregnancy rates have declined consistently in the last 20 years, how are young people viewing sex, love, and marriage? How is the media, not just television and movies but also books, impacting these ideas? Why do popular songs talk about women like objects and movies show a couple tripping into a relationship? Has romance gone the way of the handwritten letter and the cassette tape? An idealized notion that few partake in anymore. Are guys being told that they no longer have to try to woo a woman because there is always another waiting to take her place or they are somehow interchangeable? Are girls being told that they have to dress, act, look, think a certain way in order to keep a man? In these books, there is often a little romance, a lot of love, and heaps of “accepting the person for who they are”, but what does that really translate into when we take it out of the context of danger and death? I think that the medium of books goes a long way into trying to present the ideas of love and romance in a better light than many other parts of society, but still leaves something to be desired.

As a writer myself, these thoughts have called into question several plot lines, including my own, that I now have to re-read in a new context. I don’t think it’s a good idea to portray young people in such serious relationships that last for the duration of their lives. After all, isn’t one of the benefits of being young that you can date a bunch or even a few different people before deciding what type of person would be best suited to you? I know that I definitely enjoyed dating around when I was younger, and if I find the time to continue doing so then I certainly will. But as an adult, I know who I am and what I stand for, what I want and a general idea of where I’m headed with my life. Something that I definitely didn’t have figured out when I was 16, despite the protests that I probably gave to the contrary. And okay, most of these characters live in an alternate reality or desperate time or are portrayed as being more adult or grown up than their peers. But didn’t we all think we were more mature that we actually were at one point?

So here’s my advice for all the young people: stay a kid as long as you can. As someone who has recently entered the real world, i.e. paying for everything with my own money, working a 9-5 job, and constantly being exhausted, enjoy your youth. Have fun! Go on an adventure! Be with your friends (real or imaginary) and don’t be so focused on love, sports, video games, grades, or even bullies. Tell yourself every day that you are awesome. And better yet, mean it. Be a person that you would like to be friends with. And be the best version of yourself that you can. Because who are you are today is most likely who you will grow up to become and we need people who know their worth and help others to find theirs. You don’t have to have life figured out when you are 15 or even 19, and trust me, you probably don’t. High school and college are the times to discover who you are and what you are interested in; don’t waste those years, embrace them.

Teen Topic Tuesday: Sex in YA Novels

YA novels

I’ve noticed that YA novels differ greatly with discussing the topic of sex. I find that fascinating given the profusion of sex in our current society. Are some authors trying to avoid the topic because it is too embedded into our culture or because they are creating worlds so outside the current norm that sex wouldn’t even be on the table? And yet, other books have sex as a main focus, usually more fantasy or “real life” driven novels. What are those authors saying about sex and society?

Let’s have some examples because that’s always fun!

hp1-7 Harry Potter: no sex…there isn’t even kissing until the 5th book, and then after that, everyone is kind of busy trying to survive but still.

The Hunger Games: okay, so Katniss is pretty busy trying to survive the Hunger Games and then once she gets back, there is a whole love triangle thing happening that doesn’t really get resolved until the final book.

The Giver: Well Jonas is supposed to be 12 in the books but he is like 16 in the movies, so I can understand this one. Plus his society doesn’t believe in love…

Revolution 19: Robots and death but no sex.

The Selection: Sex before marriage is illegal, especially if you’re going to be the future queen, so obviously America doesn’t risk that.

Legend series: Unfortunately, no. (damnit, June)

matchedMatched: Definitely not, just another depressing love triangle that makes me want to strangle someone, usually the female lead

Maze Runner: No sex, which makes sense in the first book since only one girl shows up…but later events, could have fit in there somewhere (*spoiler* would have been an interesting twist when the girls gang up on the guys)

The Mortal Instruments: *spoiler* Plenty of opportunity but considering they think they are siblings for the better part of the series, that would just be weird

The 5th Wave: Okay, apocalypse and she basically ends up alone, this one I get

Doomed: Nope, no sex. Even though 17 year old Pandora is on the road with two very attractive young men

cinderThe Lunar Chronicles: No sex so far (fingers crossed for Wolf and Scarlet!!)

Delirium: I can’t remember but I don’t think the main characters actually have sex

Tiger Saga: Unfortunately, there is another distracting love triangle and the whole guys turning into tigers for the better part of the day thing that makes sex nearly impossible, though there is lots of tension at various points

Seven Realms series: Once again, lots of tension but no sex. Plus there is a lot of fighting for your life type action so it kind of makes sense.

 

 

twilightThe Twilight series: *spoiler* There is visible waiting until after marriage, cough, Edward, cough, so it doesn’t happen until the 4th book.

The Fault in Our Stars: *spoiler* Sex at the end of the book, which makes sense to me

matchedDivergent: *spoiler* Abnegation has a thing about being touchy-feely and it’s implied that Four and Tris have sex but no detail is given

The Wolves of Mercy Falls: *spoiler* If I remember correctly, Grace and Sam progress to that stage in the second book but in a very sweet way. Plus they’ve already been sharing her bed for months beforehand so yea, ’bout time.

House of Night: *spoiler* There is definitely sex in this book. And in particular it’s how Zoey ends up in a sticky situation that rocks her world.

 

Well now looking back, I can see that the idea of sex is usually lost in extreme post-apocalyptic societies. But isn’t it interesting that in a world that holds sex appeal in such high esteem, how often our YA novels skim over the topic completely?

If sex isn’t being talked about in a way that our teens can relate to, then isn’t the point of including it kind of lost? I like series that both include and don’t include sex, especially ones where surviving is more important than living, but isn’t it also important to talk about procreation? In particular, in post-apocalyptic settings where life and death are a matter of every day living? Because obviously the people there are still having children. (Unless you are Katniss who swears she never will.)

And while sex might not be the most important topic, I think it’s one that gets a lot of press and media exposure but not necessarily one that teens are talking about in safe or healthy ways. Especially with the typically assigned gender roles about “the s word” and what it means to “be a real man”.

I know that I have sexual tension, innuendo, and scenes in the novel that I’ve written and I’m happy with that decision. I think it’s important to represent real people (read: imperfect people), regardless of whether it is a fantasy world or not. So let me ask my fellow writers, what are your thoughts on this topic? Why do you choose to include or not include sex in your writing?

I think novels can have a powerful impact on the psyche of the growing mind and in doing so, shouldn’t we take the time to address the issue that are most pressing on those minds? Sex is a part of life, a part of becoming an adult (and being one), whether you choose to participate, abstain, or wait. I think it’s important to leave our readers with a positive impression of sex, not a negative one, that should be the goal. I know it’s the one I strive for.

Heroes

JC hero

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a hero in today’s day and age. It’s a topic that is widely discussed with all age groups and in a time where superhero movies are no longer a cult following but more of a mainstream phenomenon, I think it’s still an important question.

The answer, however, is a bit more elusive. It changes based on the evolving norms and morals of the people who believe in a particular hero. YA novels broach the subject in a roundabout way and more and more of the novels I read, shows I watch, and movies I view showcase different heroes.

So what does it mean to be a hero? Is a hero perfect? Are they human or myth or some combination of both? Do they have different faces like Bruce Wayne and his Justice League or are they simply who they are like Tris Prior? Do they sacrifice more of themselves than necessary or hide their true nature to protect themselves and those they love? Is is about bravery or something deeper?

Is it more important for them to be seen as a symbol, a hope or someone the people can relate to or some combination of both? As I reread my novel and make edits (oh, the never-ending process!), I find myself continuously evaluating if I am sending the right message, the one that I want to say and if the words on the page are actually representative of that or if the idea is still in my head struggling to come out in the sentences.

I don’t think a hero is someone that has to appeal to every single person but I think it is someone with the power to influence large groups at once. Heroes are defined by actions (and inactions) and not just words, and I think that is important distinction to make.

I also think that heroes today have become a lot more “human” than they used to be. More than ever we are seeing normal people impact the world in extreme ways. (Okay, so that might just be in books.) And they have flaws and we love and accept them regardless. In fact, in some ways, we might even love them more for it. Plus there is the whole idea of showing more back-story and how heroes (and villains!) came to be who they are, the journeys and decisions that affected them and crafted them into the person that we now see, i.e. Maleficent, Smallville, Batman Begins, and Gotham (coming this fall to Fox).

But what about when you are reading a book and the main character suddenly finds out that the person they looked up to is not at all who they thought they were? I kind of hate when that happens. It’s like people don’t realize that their heroes are people too, imperfect, fallible ones. Strike that, I hate when the character then fully rejects the person they looked up to because they discovered that the hero was human and made mistakes in the past (even if they are trying to correct them now).

I find it very frustrating. But at the same time, I can totally see where they are coming from and aren’t sure if I could be a big enough person to move past what I saw as a huge mistake made by a hero of mine. But then you have heroes like Katniss Everdeen that are written as flawed, desperately real humans and get flak from both sides because of it.

What does it mean to you to be hero? Are there any true heroes in real life? If so, what is it about them that causes you to define them as a hero?