What doesn't kill you...makes you leave New York

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetThis city has siren-called me for years. First, it awoke in me a primal desire to just be here. I ached for it with a youthful passion, so much that my bones reverberated with the desire to exist in this space. For years, I longed. While living in New York, my soul sang the sweetest tune it’s known; I gloried in my city. I thrived. I blossomed and bloomed and whatever other cheesy metaphor you have for doing well in a place.

For a year, at least.

For a year, I truly lived in New York. I went to school and my part-time job and I did my laundry at the laundromat and I went out to dinners with friends; I stood in line (three times) for Black Tap burgers, I went on a lobster cruise in the harbor, I went to church and parties and just really inhabited the city.

Things went downhill during the second year, to the point where I woke up one day and realized I was working hard just to continue working. I was devoting countless hours to my barista job, coming home and spending more hours writing and submitting articles, just to scrape by. At the end of the month, I barely made rent, and then I started all over again.

I wasn’t living in New York. I was just taking up space, working just to wake up and do it again, striving just to keep on striving.

The hardest decision in the world was the one to leave. How could I give up this place that has meant so much to me? New York is more than a city for me, more than a home. It’s a friend.

During some of my darkest hours, when the depression has swung and struck and hammered and battered at my soul, it’s been New York that saved me. I would leave my apartment, ride the subway and get off at a park or Fifth Avenue or the waterfront and just breathe it in — the pure life of the city.

It rejuvenated me, reminded me I wanted to be.

Even before moving here, New York was saving me. I was hospitalized as a sophomore in college for being exceedingly suicidal, and what was it that got me out of the pit? The knowledge that if I died, I wouldn’t make it to New York on a class trip the next month.

I have loved this city with a burning love for a long time. And as much as people say New York is hard, that it chews you up and spits you out, I have felt like it loved me back.

Processed with VSCO with x1 presetOh, it loved me with a tough love. It didn’t coddle me, and when I found myself in tough straits, it didn’t give me a job. In fact, it kicked me out.

But it loved me regardless.

There was the day I walked down the street sobbing, on the phone with my father trying to figure out how I would survive the hours, and a strange man stopped and said, “Hey, are you OK?”

That was New York offering love.

Or the way the Chrysler Building lights up just for me, all swirly and golden and piercing straight to my heart with its beauty.

The contrast between sky-reaching buildings and the corner stores — the buildings that don’t know me from Adam, the bodega owners who smile and know my order and call me “sweetie.”

They are the life of the city. It’s the little things. It’s funny, that such an impossibly big city is given life through the little things, but so it is.

I adore this city.

But I have to leave it. I have to, and I want to.

The life I’ve lived this past year is no life at all. I’m grateful I have the option to go somewhere else, to reset. It’s a combination of deteriorating mental health and the fierce competition in the media industry that led to me working a barista job and barely scraping by.

And so I know — if I can start over somewhere else, somewhere a little easier, I can come back stronger. I know this because I have to; I know this because it’s the only reason I can leave — this knowledge that I’ll come back.

To New York: you are my love, my friend, my home. It’s been hard, but we’ve made it work. Until we couldn’t.

Oh, man. I’m sitting here sobbing like the world has ended. I’m driving away tomorrow, driving to a new life. And I know I’m going to pull over so many times and cry again. My heart is breaking. I don’t want to leave the city, the friends, the life I made.

But really, I left it a year ago, when I first took a six-day-a-week pizza-slinging job. It’s just taken me this long to realize it.

Sometimes you need to take a step or two back in order to come back stronger. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m doing this. I’m just sad that I have to.

The freedom to dream (again)

I have 10,000 blog posts in my heart about leaving New York. Wait, you didn't know I'm leaving New York? I wrote a newsletter explaining why. So now this post can jump right into an unintended positive consequence: I feel free again, free to dream big and paint futures for myself in the sky.

IMG_2900Recently, I've been feeling so...stuck. Stagnant. Like I'm treading quicksand, just waiting to disappear. Except I'm not sinking, but I also can't get out.

I've always been a big dreamer. I never really boxed myself into an "ideal" future, because I was constantly painting a new one. I was constantly believing that what was to come would be better than what was.

Not in the sense that I was unhappy; just in the sense that I truly believed things would continue to improve.

As a child, my dreams took the shape of how I would grow into someone so pretty, how all the boys would love me, how I would be famous and rich and successful and happy. I had this one dream, when I was around 11 or so, that by age 14 (incidentally, the age at which I knew I would return to America) I would be tall, slim, with long red hair that my nimble fingers could form into a braid.

When that didn't turn out, I simply turned to a new dream. That's how I was. That's how I am. Dreaming is part of the fabric of my brain. I have this innate sense of how things can and will be ever better.

I've lost that over the past year. Oh, I think I had it, some, for my first year in New York. That was the year that I was in school and working part-time, the year that I spent a lot of time with my friends and did a lot of cool New York things.

The second year, things dwindled. I worked, and that's about it. I worked, watched TV, read books, and slept. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I stopped dreaming. Recently, I've been telling everyone how I feel stuck. I thought the solution was to get a new job, or perhaps win a novel contest, or maybe break into a new publication. I thought the solution was to work harder.

And then, a week ago, everything changed. In quick succession, I quit my job, decided to move away from New York, planned a three-month reset visit to Italy followed by looking for jobs. And I decided that I wouldn't give myself a city, state or even general geographic vicinity in which to look. I wouldn't box myself in. I would pull up my computer and just look for any writing job, anywhere.

The dreams came back. Suddenly I was visualizing myself driving through Seattle; living on the beach in California; writing for a newspaper in Hawaii; dating a country music singer in Nashville; I was able to see myself in all these places, and even better, I was able to imagine myself happy.

I think the trap I fell into over the past year is that I decided I wouldn't be happy if I was anywhere other than New York. But I wasn't happy in New York, mostly because I wasn't really doing anything other than work food service jobs that didn't have any personal fulfillment. It's one thing to not be satisfied in your job but have a social life that fills you with joy. But to have neither? I was so exhausted I couldn't do anything other than work. But I wasn't happy at work. So I just...wasn't happy.

But I was convinced that I wouldn't be happy leaving New York.

Obviously, I haven't left yet, so I don't know if I will be happy anywhere else. I believe I will, though, and that's half the battle.

The thing about dreams is that they really do influence reality. If I allow myself the liberty of believing I could be happy anywhere else, the chances are much higher that I really will be.

So I'm letting my imagination loose. I'm visualizing myself anywhere and everywhere all at once, living a life of adventure like I've always dreamed. I had no idea it would take giving up on one dream to learn to dream again.

It's heartbreaking that I have to leave New York. It feels like I'm betraying not just the city but myself from two years ago. It feels like I've failed; I tried to hack it in New York but wasn't strong enough, couldn't do it.

Those feelings come and choke me and threaten to take away my ability to dream. In those moments, I allow myself to mourn. I let myself be sad about what I'm losing, what I never had. But I'm not going to let them take over.

So what if I failed at living in New York? That's not a real measure of success anyone other than two-years-ago-Karis uses.

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I let myself mourn, and then I start to dream. I dream about the adventures I'll have in Italy for three months. I dream about all the jobs that I can apply for now that I'm not limiting myself to one metro area. I dream about all the cool places I could live, the beautiful furniture I could buy, the kitten and puppy I could adopt. I dream about the new friends I'll make and the boys I'll meet and the life I'll build.

And it's good.

It's so good.

New York — it's amazing. But it's not everything. And I think I needed to lose it in order to see that.

Writing Tuesday: Meeting a Writing Hero

Listen, it's fine if you don't know who Leigh Bardugo is... Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Wait, wait, I can't do this. I can't start out this post with a lie! It is not fine if you don't know who Leigh Bardugo is, so I'm here to tell you some things about her: first, she's an incredible writer of young adult literature. She has penned several novels in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world entirely of her own making; plus, she was one of four YA authors tapped by DC to write coming-of-age stories of some DC Heroes (hers? None but WONDER WOMAN Y'ALL). So she's kind of a big deal. Like, the amount of talent she has for storytelling and world building is just, like...I want it.

Another thing to know about Leigh is that she's committed to writing diverse books. She's a white Jewish woman, but she incorporates characters of varying colors, religions and sexualities in order to create a world that similarly parallels our own. She also writes characters with disabilities; as someone who has dealt with chronic pain and psychical disability herself, Leigh hasn't shied away from showing that in her fiction. And that's incredible.

All of this is stuff you could find with a quick Google search of her name. But today I want to share a personal story, about how much of an incredible person Leigh Bardugo is. And it all started with her book, WONDER WOMAN: WARBRINGER, which was released earlier in September.

It all started then because, of course, Leigh was going on tour for that book; and, fortunately for me, that tour included a stop in New York City. In case you've missed it, THAT'S WHERE I LIVE!

Now, the last event I went to at a New York Barnes & Noble was the Jojo Moyes/Emilia Clarke signing last year, so I got my butt out of the house seven hours before the event was to begin and trekked to Union Square for a wristband. Fortunately, they were still in stock.

As the seconds ticked ever closer to 7 p.m., my heart began to race a little more. I was excited because this event included a conversation between Leigh and Daniel Jose Older, another incredible writer; book signing with personalization, yo; and a chance to take a picture (seen above)! Because I'm a dolt, I showed up just a few minutes before 7, and grabbed a seat towards the back of the auditorium. Sitting in the back of the class was a winning strategy all through college, so I didn't figure it would hurt.

Except of course, they let you line up to meet Leigh by row.

Now, thanks to my job as a barista, I go to bed around, oh, 9 p.m....if I'm staying up late. Usually, I'm in bed by 8:30 p.m. Last Wednesday, I didn't even line up to meet Leigh until 9:15. This is how committed I was to meeting her.

I was nervous, though. What do you say when you meet someone you adore, who's writing has meant the world to you? I had submitted interview questions to Leigh a few weeks earlier through her publicist; should I mention that? Should I go with my gut and say, "Hey, how are ya?" and when she responded with, "Good, and you?" say, "Starstruck"?

Cause I was. I was completely struck by her dazzling stardom. I mean, she was so great on stage. Funny, self-possessed yet modest, full of wisdom. And then there's me, small and terrified and without a book deal to my name.

Turns out I didn't have to worry about it, because as soon as she saw the little Post-It that said "Karis" attached to my book, Leigh smiled and said, "Oh, are you the same Karis...?"

SHE RECOGNIZED MY NAME Y'ALL!!

And then — then!

She held out her arms and, when I hesitated, said, "Are you a hugger?"

HECK YEAH I'M A HUGGER LEIGH BARDUGO, I'LL GIVE YOU A HUG!

Wow. I was amazed. While she signed my book, I took a deep breath and told her what I'd mentioned in the interview questions: that I read the Six of Crows duology during a desperately miserable depressive episode, and they helped me survive. I teared up a little. I told her "thank you."

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She wrote a little note in my book, we took a picture, and I went on my way.

I didn't sleep all night. I was still too riled up, too excited.

And now, to get to the point of this story: Leigh is not only an incredibly talented writer, one who cares about diversity — she's a real human. One who cares. She recognized my name and remembered it, knew who I was...and I'm not the only one. I saw her greet so many other fans with recognition, like she'd met them before and was excited to see them. And I believe she was — excited to see them, to remember them.

I think it's that she just cares, y'all. On a human level, she gives a crap about the people who read her books and the people she meets. And she remembers them.

And that's my writing lesson for the week. No matter how good you are, how successful, how amazing...never stop caring about people. About readers and non-readers and everyone in-between. Because if we don't care about people...what the heck are we even writing for?

The best writers, it turns out, don't do it for the glory or the recognition. They do it because the care about people; stories can honestly change lives, and to be a part of that, to do something like that...you have to care about the people reading your words.

I'm so grateful for writers like Leigh who care. And when I grow up...I want to be just like her.

Fab Book Friday: MASK OF SHADOWS by Linsey Miller

  Welcome, welcome, to the first installment since the rebirth of Fab Book Friday!!!

Basically, more than a year ago I started this thing where I picked a book and raved about it every Friday. And by "started this thing" I mean I did it, like, twice, and then stopped. But I'm trying to get back into it! So basically, every Friday you can expect a new post with me raving (never ranting) about a book I've read recently. Because I believe in uplifting the things I love.

So I recently received an ARC (advance reader copy) of MASK OF SHADOWS by Linsey Miller, which I didn't remember requesting but was excited to receive because I'd been hearing buzz about it. The premise is that Sal Leon is a gender fluid thief who wants revenge upon people for reasons that will be explained in the book. They find their opportunity when Auditions open for a spot on The Left Hand, this super elite group of assassins that are the Queen's closest confidantes and whom I kinda wanna be besties with. Shenanigans ensue.

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I was intrigued by the premise and by the fact that Sal is gender fluid, an identity many people I know claim but that I haven't really seen in books. In MASK OF SHADOWS, this fluidity is presented by the fact that Sal chooses to dress either as a girl (and go by female pronouns), a boy (and male pronouns) or androgynously (in which they go by gender-neutral pronouns).

I honestly thought it was going to be confusing, but as it turned out, Sal's gender identity was the least interesting thing about them. It was just a state of being, an accepted fact.

Which I kind of loved?

I mean, we live in a time period where the way we choose to identify ourselves is one of our defining characteristics. And I'm not blaming this on anyone, but it is true that from all sides of the spectrum, our identity, be it gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or whatnot, is huge.

But there are things about us that are more or equally important, just as there are things about Sal that are just as important as their gender fluidity. Some of these things include:

  • They are a very good thief-turned-assessin. This is v. important and we should honestly focus on it. Sal is quick and quiet and ruthless. They are bent on revenge and willing to do whatever it takes to get it. This leads to the next thing, which is:
  • They are angry. I won't tell you why, but Sal is very angry. They have a beef with a lot of people, and are willing to do whatever it takes to even the slate. I feel that. I don't live in a fantasy world and the same things that happened to Sal didn't happen to me, but I have a lot of anger. It was interesting to see a character who represented that part of myself, especially because of the next point, which is also true of me:
  • They are hurting. Sal was wounded as a child and they carry their hurt, masking it as anger. Again — wow. Could be me. I relate so hard. And yet, despite their assassin-ness and anger and hurt, it's also true that:
  • They are somehow naive. I know, this seems odd, right? That an assassin could be naive. But it makes sense. MASK OF SHADOWS is, after all, a young-adult novel, and Sal is meant to be about 16 or 17, I believe. They fiercely love and believe in a certain thing, to the point of naivete, and it's...so truthful.

And that's what I loved about MASK OF SHADOWS. It is true that there were parts of the book that were hard to follow (the world-building is complicated and kind of rushed in places), but I related hard to Sal and actually believed them as a teenage character. Which can be hard to find in YA fantasy, because a lot of times the characters are 16-going-on-45. And of course Sal had to grow up fast because of their situation, but they still act like a teenager. That was refreshingly real.

IMG_4062All in all, this book is in "Fab Book" Friday for a reason. Because I loved it. I honestly felt my heart race at the end of every chapter, and wanted to keep going. But I was buddy-reading it with a friend and we'd promised to read 50 pages a day so, alas, I often had to stop. Of course, now I'm anxious for book two, and whatever other books Linsey has up her sleeve.

Cheers! :)

Writing Tuesday: A state of being

I've decided to revive the original purpose of this blog, which was to write about writing. Because I'm a writing nerd, and that's what writing nerds do: we nerd out about writing. OK, now that I've gotten that terrible sentence out of the way, on to the blog! I'll probably still use this site for random political thoughts or God-Thoughts or even, sometimes, a few depression-thoughts, but those won't be super easy to count on.

What you can, however, count on is Writing Tuesdays and Fab Book Fridays.

Basically, every Tuesday I'll post some ruminations on writing; these could be either profiles like I've done in the past (although I'm also publishing those elsewhere), or thoughts about good writing I've read recently, or thoughts about how hard writing is. So come here on Tuesdays if you're looking for my thoughts on writing!

And on Fridays I'm going to choose one book I've read in the past week or month, and I'm literally just going to rave about it. Why? Because I believe all people should read books, and because I believe in supporting and fan-girling like a cheerleader which I always aspired to be but never was.

Today's Writing Tuesday is going to be fairly short, on account of I've already written 200 words about how I'm going to write about things.

Also the fact that I still don't know what I'm going to write about.

Ahhh...

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I dunno. I just want to say that writing is...writing is something that has saved my life. And not just my writing: others' writing as well. The consumption of excellent stories has often-times pulled me out of the mire. These stories include the SIX OF CROWS duology by Leigh Bardugo and the two books that have so far been published in the Ember quartet by Sabaa Tahir.

I was so depressed around this time last year that I stopped feeling things. And yet I was able to read. I have this memory of bursting into tears or laughter while reading these books, and it just...it reminded me that I was alive.

And then, when I started writing again...it was like I was alive. It was like I finally remembered that I had a beating heart and emotions, and the ability to translate those emotions into reality.

Writing is not just something that I do; it's almost something that I am. And if that resonates with you, on any level, I want to encourage you to keep doing it.

Even if you never get published, even if you only write in a journal. There's a world of benefit and worth to that. If writing at any level, for any amount of time, in any capacity, helps you as a person...then do it.

Write.

Express.

Emote.

Be.

REVIEW: Emily Ziff Griffin's LIGHT YEARS Blog Tour!

tour banner Well hello there, friends, and welcome to my stop on the LIGHT YEARS Blog Tour! For those of you tuning in who aren't sure what that means: basically, Emily Ziff Griffin's YA debut LIGHT YEARS releases Tuesday, Sep. 5, and in the days leading up to it several excited bloggers (myself included) will be posting interviews, reviews, and more! Exciting, right? So read on for my REVIEW of the book, then follow along with the rest of the tour, and make sure to pre-order the book and enter the giveaway!

Onwards with my review!

Luisa is a young girl who feels as though she's stifled and can't wait for her life to begin. She applies and interviews for a prestigious fellowship that, she hopes, will be the first step on the road to actually going somewhere in her life. Unfortunately, right around the time of her interview, a mysterious virus begins to infect the world, including people close to her. Add to that the fact that she's beginning to get cryptic messages insinuating she might have the key to stopping it, and you've got the makings of Luisa going off on an adventure to, well, save the world.

It's a book with a huge scope; namely, exploring how the world will react to a deadly virus, one like, say, AIDS...which affects some and not others, which seems impossible to cure, which is tearing the world to pieces. And Emily has taken on a huge task for herself in grappling with things like empathy, disease, family bonds, romance and even spirituality, all in a book aimed at teenagers. It's a book that deals with the soul of the person as well as the body, that deals with how to choose between two difficult options, and that shows teenagers stepping up to the plate.

While there are places where I felt LIGHT YEARS fell a little flat — for instance, Luisa is set up as a brilliant visionary, but other than being told this is what she is, we aren't given much reason for believing it — overall I found it entrancing and powerful.

And that twist! I won't ruin it for you, obviously, but I will say that the ending comes with flair and makes everything leading up to it just...click into place. The ending, which is somewhat of a cliffhanger, leaves me both satisfied with how LIGHT YEARS concludes but also willing to read more, should Emily feel so led as to give me another book.

I think, in the end, my favorite thing about LIGHT YEARS is that it's a young adult novel. That the protagonists, the ones with the keys and the heart and the vision to save the world, are teens. I'm into YA because it shows just how amazing teenagers really are, and this book does not fall short in that way.

It's a book I will definitely recommend (as I'm doing right now!), one that isn't perfect but is still very good, one that makes you think in a way that, at least personally, I'm not used to.

And you can order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble and please don't forget to follow the rest of the tour and enter the giveaway (US only)!

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The sins of our fathers: it's our time to make amends

I equally can't and can believe this is happening. That today, over halfway through 2017, we're still arguing over whether people chanting racist slurs and complaining about "white oppression" are wrong or right or Nazis. Hey, guys — they're Nazis. It's simple. When you become a white supremacist, you are buying into the same ideals that rose to power in Germany in the 30s. And when you sit by and look to the side so they can pass you by, when you shrug and say, "Well, freedom of speech...", when you refuse to condemn because you don't think we can legislate morality...you are complicit. No, you might not be circling a Black church in Charlottesville or ramming your car into counter-protesters, but you are standing by and doing nothing, and that, my friends, makes you equally responsible.

Listen, I recognize that writing this post might be futile, because people are rarely convinced by logical arguments and whatnot. But at the same time, I have to do it. Because what happened this weekend in Virginia was...disgusting. And what I'm seeing from fellow white people, especially white Christians who have little to fear, is a lot of nothing. No condemnation, no horror, no disgust. Nothing.

Well, that's wrong. I am seeing something. I'm seeing a shrugging off of responsibility. An attitude that says, I am not like these people, I am not a Nazi, therefore I have nothing to apologize for and well, it's not my fault so I shouldn't have to speak out against it.

The internet won't tell me definitively who said it, but someone once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” And even though I can't tell you exactly who said it, I can tell you it's true.

So if you're a "good man" (er, person) you can't sit back and do and say nothing. Speaking out against these acts is the bare minimum.

And you know what? Sure, I didn't personally step out in hate in Charlottesville. But I am a white woman, and it is true that 53 percent of white women in America voted for Trump. It's also true that he refused to specifically condemn white supremacy, and that the website The Daily Stormer (which I won't link to because it's disgusting), took his comments as positive reinforcement of their beliefs, including "God Bless Him" at the end of their rundown of his statement. I mean, when Nazis are saying you're on their side...you're on their side.

So there's that fact: I did not personally vote for Trump, but the majority of white women did. Because white women all benefit from a system of white supremacy. Yes: women as a whole earn 79 percent of what men do. But wait, there's more! Black women earn 67 cents to the white man's dollar. Aka, white women, while still earning less than white men, earn more than Black women. There is inequality in this country, and inevitably white people come on top; and while white men benefit the most, white women definitely benefit from a system of white supremacy.

And that's what I'm apologizing for. No, I didn't choose to be born white and privileged, able-bodied and straight. But I was. And I live in a country that gives me privileges based on those factors. And the very least I can do is recognize that privilege, apologize for it, and work to equalize the playing field.

White men are scared — why? They're not in any real danger; unless that's the danger of losing their advantage.

And no, this is not a post where you can come and "not all white people" or "not all men" me. I'm not here for that.

I'm simply here to say, listen, fellow white people, we've been privileged all throughout history. We've been afforded and we've taken power and advantage where we could, and we've downtrodden everyone else. And sure, maybe it wasn't this current generation of white people who killed and corralled and stole Native American lives and land. Maybe it wasn't our generation who enslaved Black people and then freed them but kept them subjugated. Maybe it wasn't this generation who imprisoned Japanese people in internment camps. But it is this generation who is refusing to open our doors to Muslim immigrants and refugees who are forced to leave their own homes out of fear for their lives. It is this generation who is so afraid we're OK with building a freaking wall just to keep out Mexicans. It is this generation of white people who have benefitted from a history of white supremacy, and it is this generation of white people whose job it is to stand up and say "Enough already, it's time to equalize."

Maybe that means minimizing ourselves in order to be equal. Maybe it just means grabbing someone's hand and helping them along. Either way: do what you have to do to make up for the sins of our fathers.

I mean, guys, come on, this is Biblical! In the book of Daniel, he prays and asks forgiveness not only for his own sins, but for those of his fathers. He says Jerusalem is a reproach because of things past generations had done.

If you won't take it from me, take it from the mouth of a prophet: until we atone for the wrongs our forefathers wrought upon others, we will also be a reproach.

 

Depression: the waves will come back

You may know that I had a psych hospitalization last week for a very bad depressive episode. I'm not gonna go too in-depth about it, because I have a few pieces to-be-published that will describe it, but suffice it to say: things got really, really bad. Worse than they have been, and it reached the point where the only option was to go to a hospital. That would have been the only option no matter where I was; that's how bad things were. No amount of family or friends hovering over me was able to change my mental state.

And hospitals are really great, if you can get a good one. My first time in a psych ward was bad. The second time was better, but I still swore to myself and others that I wouldn't go back. I didn't want it to be a crutch, you see.

More on that in another post, because this isn't the time or place.

IMG_3548This time, and this place, is to talk about what happened after I left the hospital. Obviously, I was initially overjoyed. As soon as I was out of the psych ward, I stripped the tape off my phone camera and took a selfie.

As you do.

Then my friends came to pick me up and we took the cutest Boomerang I've participated in and then got pancakes at iHop.

All in all, a great day.

That was Friday. By Monday, I was once again feeling like I was pouring out the dregs of my energy. You know when you brew looseleaf tea, and there's some left at the bottom, and you think you'll ration and make another cup with it, but then the leaves are sad and strangled and can't provide much strength?

That's how I felt.

Well, I guess it's more accurate to say that's how I feel. Because the dreg-feeling, that knowledge that I am functioning at less than half my capacity, it hasn't gone away, not completely.

I've had some good days in the past week; well, more like good moments. The nature of my diagnosis is that my moods shift radically and quickly, each feeling lasting for a few days to a few hours.

So no matter how good things get, they always get bad again.

I guess the upside to that, the positive way to speak of it, would have been that no matter how bad things get, they always get good again.

I've written about the cyclical nature of depression. I think it was a pretty darn good article, so I'm not going to replicate it here, but I would appreciate it if you clicked that link and read it.

Because I think a lot of people still don't "get" it. That depression, my mental illness, isn't going to go away once and for all at some point. It's not going to vanish if I live in the right place or have the right friends or eat the right foods. It might be diminished, yeah, if I take certain steps — and I'm trying to. I take literal thousands of steps a day as I walk to and from work in an effort to get some exercise in, and I'm taking up coloring as a de-stressing exercise when I feel overwhelmed.

But I do this knowing that it won't "cure" me. My depression is not a disease that can be cured by meds and right living.

Even if, even when, I do everything right, it still comes and smacks me in the face and sends me spiraling.

So yeah. I've been really depressed this week. That's not because I'm doing anything wrong, though. It's not my fault. It's my disease.

I can't fix it. You can't fix it. The only person (er, being) who could fix it is God, and while I'm 100% positive that He has the power to do so, I'm 95% positive that He won't. (That's a story for another blog post, though). Suffice it to say that I've come to terms with the fact that this is something I'll live with for years to come.

And again — that's not a depressing fact! It's freeing! It allows me, at times, to take the waves as they come and ride them out, knowing they'll fade, return, fade again, the same way the tides in the ocean do.

It can be hard to deal with at times when I'm in the thick of depression. But even then, I remember — this will pass and I will be clearheaded again.

Oh, man. 750 words in and I'm not sure what the point of this blog post is, except to reinforce that this is a disease I live with; and this is a disease I'm determined to be honest about.

So I'm going to post about it on social media. I'm going to tell my friends what's going on. I'm going to be painfully, brutally honest about it, because it's good for me and because I believe — I pray — I hope — that it will help someone else to see that yes, you can be chronically depressed; but yes, you can live and love and be successful and find joy through it all.

And when I do post these things, it's not because I want platitudes or solutions or recriminations. I just want to be honest. I want to live life in the open. To know and be known, intimately, honestly, truly. I want you to know and understand what mental illness truly is, and I want to bring hope to others in my situation.

That's my promise. Maybe it's my threat. I'm not really sure — which do you think of it as?

Writing just won't let you go: a profile of Katherine Nichols

KRN portrait For the past 20 years, Katherine Nichols has worked, in some way or another, as a writer.  Whether that means working as a print journalist or hosting a TV feature or, finally, penning the nonfiction book for teens DEEP WATER, Katherine has felt the pull of writing on her life.

"Though I have gone in other directions, I keep returning to writing because I love the challenge, the perpetual opportunity for learning and improvement," she said. "But it never gets easier. So perhaps a more honest answer is that it won’t let me go."

When she was a young girl, Katherine made mini-books out of construction paper. She describes these early literary pursuits as "average stories and terrible illustrations," but with typical childlike aplomb, she demanded an audience of her family members.

In addition, like so many other writers, Katherine was a reader. As a child, her parents not only read aloud to her, but modeled the life of a reader by being avid consumers of the written word themselves.

In school, Katherine felt herself drawn to English classes. "I found them so enjoyable that I would save the homework for last," she said, "as a reward after finishing math and chemistry and biology."

Partly out of the necessity of having a steady paycheck, Katherine turned to journalism, saying, "If you’re not a bestselling author, it’s tough to make a living from fiction. Journalism jobs and assignments came more easily to me."

But her choice of this career isn't entirely pragmatic, though that is of course a big part. She said she's a naturally curious person who enjoyed that journalism allowed her to learn about others, in essence to have a brand-new education in a new field almost every day.

Plus, there was the added benefit of being able to help someone with her stories. Early in her career, she published a story about a young man who, after a car accident, became a quadriplegic. He taught himself to paint by holding the brush in his teeth, and Katherine's feature on him was published by the San Diego Union.

"It ... brought attention to his work," she said. "The idea that I could do something positive by telling someone else’s story inspired me."

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Katherine's debut book, DEEP WATER, released May 2 from Simon True, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, tells the story of a group of young men from Coronado, California, who during the summer of 1971 begin a drug-smuggling business that turns into a booming, $100 million endeavour. The catch? They are all athletes who swim the drug packages across the border.

It's an intriguing story, and one that Katherine was familiar with as someone who grew up in Coronado.

"Growing up [in] the small beach town and graduating from the same high school gave the narrative an insider’s perspective," she said.

Although she originally planned to fictionalize the tale of the Coronado Company, Katherine ended up writing it as a nonfiction book after Simon True approached her with the idea.

In speaking about the experience of writing the book, Katherine acknowledged that there was something freeing in writing about criminals (with the caveat that they were non-violent ones).

"It was rewarding to transcend that judgment, to find other ways to connect with their experiences," she said. "Because we are all human beings with needs, desires, strengths, and flaws that influence our choices. Who among us has not made a mistake with potentially serious consequences?"

DEEP WATER can be purchased on Amazon and more information about the book can be found on Facebook. Feel free to check out Katherine's website or follower her on Twitter to stay up to date with her writing.

Bittersweet: the Fourth as an adult

I remember being a child and wishing I were in America all the time. It was my Promised Land, and the American Dream was the one I wanted desperately. It's ironic, because I lived in Italy, one of the most beautiful place I've been, full of life and culture and delectable food, gorgeous, heart-rending cities that careen and curve around the angles of my heart until they settle in for eternity. But as a kid, I didn't appreciate that.

I wanted America, fast and easy and convenient.

What I also remember is feeling incredibly lucky to be American, wondering how I got to win the genetic lottery of living in the "land of the free, home of the brave."

And now? Now I still feel like it was lucky that I was born American, mostly because it means I'm able to get into this country that, despite the fear-mongering that's rampant in our government, is safe and full of opportunity.

I work for and with a lot of Italians, and to the person they bemoan the lack of jobs in their country; they marvel at all the options for work available to them in this one.

It's the same thing I hear from my childhood friends who are still in Italy: this land is hard. This life is hard. They wonder how I was able to find a job so easily (it took two months of unemployment to land a minimum-wage pizzeria job).

I marvel, too, because as hard as it's been over the past year to find a good job in my field (read: impossible, hence the barista aspect of my life), I have been able to find job, one that pays just enough for me to pay my Brooklyn rent, buy my Brooklyn groceries and live the New York life that has become my version of the American dream.

Life in America is a lot easier than in a lot of other places, and my American passport affords me a heck-ton of opportunities.

As a kid, I loved all things American and wanted to be as foreign as possible in Italy. So when the 4th of July rolled around, I donned my American flag t-shirt and sang the anthem with gusto and reveled in my American status. I was proud and patriotic and in love with being from the "best place on earth" or whatever.

And now? Now I'm...conflicted. Like I said, I still see the value and opportunity in my homeland. But I also see the hardships. I see the fissures in our communities, the cracks between people of one kind and another...between black and white and gay and straight, Christian and Muslim, home-bred and foreign-born.

And it breaks my heart, because I can't help but believe that we should all love each other. That our differences make us stronger. I know firsthand from growing up in a foreign culture that people who look, talk, act and think differently than you can add to your life, rather than take away from it. We thrive in diversity, stifle in homogeneity.

This Fourth of July is bittersweet. It's the first under a new administration that is doing a lot of things I cannot get behind, including changing health insurance so it'll be harder for people like me to get coverage, including trying to institute a ban of people from a certain religion, including firing up a lot of really hateful people to do really awful things.

But I've also seen, over the past six months, an outpouring of love. I've seen people online and in real life stand up for those who look differently, I've seen people mobilize to get more involved in their government, I've seen support given where it is needed despite differences.

So I know that the American people are worth celebrating. Not just the ones who were born here or who look like me; the ones who inspire me the most, often, are the ones whose stories are radically different from mine.

So I know that just like any person, America is a mix of good and bad. Unlike when I was a child, I don't think I can don my T-shirt and proclaim it's the best country in the world. I know now more of the history of how it was built, on the backs of slaves, and I cannot turn a blind eye to the racism and hatred that exists as a fault line through our culture.

At the same time, I can't throw away the goodness of the American people, the strength and resilience and love I also see.

So this Fourth of July, I'm gonna celebrate. I'm gonna brunch with a friend, going to write and read and relax and watch the fireworks, and know that as far as we've come, we've got a ways to go yet. And I'm going to believe to we'll get there. So I'm going to celebrate in advance. And tomorrow, I'm going to wake up and get to work.

I haven't been politically involved lately because sometimes my depression makes it hard to think past myself. But I'm committing to get out of my head going forward...to call senators and vote and get others to vote and volunteer to teach kids to read and support people and love people and be radical. And maybe the fault line of hate can become a fault line of love.

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But God...

Content notice: depression, suicidal ideation Crushingly weary, my ankles sore and my back crackling with pain, I took myself to church at Hillsong after a long shift —after a long week—at work. I don't know what propelled me to turn right instead of left out of the cafe and make my way toward the C at Franklin Ave instead of waiting for the bus that would have taken me to my soft bed, so I guess it must have something to do with God. Because somehow, I knew that I had—I just had—to get to church last Sunday.

See, I've been feeling pretty empty lately. I told my coworker that these days, I'm like tea running through leaves that have been strained too many time, rationed too many times, so instead of being strong and full of life and flavor, I'm weak and kind of bitter. I'm green tea that's steeped too long.

I'm weary, just exhausted, and I feel like I have nothing left to give; I felt, even Sunday, like I had no energy for worship, no joy in the singing and the dancing and the celebrating.

But worship is simply stripped-bare soul meeting Creator, and its beauty is in the fact that He will meet you where you are. And Sunday, as I sat and worshipped, I felt Him meet me.

Crystallize this moment in amber, I prayed, because I want to remember, to reflect upon and cherish, that moment of wonder.

Wonder was the theme of the night, as the message Pastor Carl preached was called "Stay Wonderful." I love a good clever sermon title, so I'm pretty fond of this one, which is about remaining filled with a sense of awe at God and his creation, namely, people and life.

I took more notes on the first part of the sermon (people are wonderful), but it's the second half that's struck a chord.

It's the part that says "life is wonderful" that truly resonates with me.

You see, I've always thought that, as much as I've always been in such a rush to throw my life away. It's a symptom of my depression that this thing I cherish so much—the mere fact of being alive—often became a burden on my shoulders, something to muddle through rather than exploring in joy.

I have memories, slightly vague, of being a child who was filled to the brim with this love of life. I thought it was so incredible, this chance we have to inhabit the earth for a few years, to love and grow and celebrate and emote. And somewhere along the way, my joy in life was tainted, soured, and suddenly I'm at a place where I don't know how to function if I'm not suicidal.

I feel like that sentence bears explaining, so: my go-to solution to a problem, almost any problem, is death. If there's interpersonal strife or I think I'm failing at work or I have writer's block, I jump to thoughts of killing myself. It's the path my brain has trod the most, and so it's the path I inevitably take regardless of what else is going on.

So whether or not I'm actively dealing with suicidal thoughts, it's my MO, the way I think; no matter where I am on the scale of not-depressed to hospitalization, if things go wrong, I dream of ending my life.

But life is wonderful, and keeping that sense of awe about life isn't just something that I need to do as it's part of God's calling on my life; it's something I need to do as it's part of what helps me counteract and redirect the thoughts in my head.

Easier said than done, of course. I can't just re-write the functions of my brain, forging brand-new paths from nowhere and hoping they'll stick. I'm weak. I can't do it.

But God.

This life is gonna be a long hard journey, my back bowed and aching with the weight of depression and cares, my feet blistering in agony, and I'm gonna need Him with me every step of the way to regain and retain my sense of wonder.

It's a hard task, a high calling, a big thing to ask of anyone, and no human could do it, really.

But God.

Here's the thing about my God. He is love beyond belief.

He created my flesh smooth and pleasing to His eye, and I took a blade and marred what he had loved. And though it cut him just as it cut me, He chose to love what he had made through what I had done to it. My fear has always been of ruining what He made.

But God.

He loves me regardless, and there's nothing I can do to change that. Nothing. Absolutely not a damn thing, no matter what I or you or anyone may say to the contrary.

And my God, He is strength. He is power. He is the ability to do all and more, above and beyond.

So yeah. I can't think of life as wonderful all the time.

But God.

He can. And through Him, so can I.

I may be weak,

but God

is strong in my weakness.

Missing my heart-land, away from home

There's something about being away from New York that makes me miss Italy more fiercely. It doesn't seem like those two should be so intertwined, does it? How does leaving New York relate to missing Italy? They're not the same!

And yet, somehow, being in the city, walking the streets of Brooklyn, glowering at the tourists in Manhattan, it has this ethereal quality to it, this thing I can only describe as a feel, that makes me feel at home and reminds me of Italy. And so I miss Italy a little less, because I'm distracted by New York City.

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There's so much to distract you in New York. There's a fog of exhaustion that seems to float behind every step, compounded by the stress of public transportation as the only means to get anywhere. There's a level of striving in everything, a tension that doesn't leave your shoulders at all, because every month this niggling question hovers: will I make rent for next month? I breathe a sigh of relief at the end of every month when I pay my roommate the allotted amount to give me 30 more days in the city.

And there are people, new faces to observe, new oddballs to dodge, something different on every corner. There's a job, 40+ hours a week on my feet in almost constant motion, serving other Brooklynites their coffee and panini, and yet, despite the countless time I spend working and charming people for tips, I'm barely scraping by and looking to pick up side gigs for a little extra cash flow.

There's constantly something on my mind in New York, and that combined with the Europe-ness of the city means I don't have time to think back on Trieste...

...To think about long and lazy morning walks seven miles down the waterfront, ending at the castle I love so much I tattooed it on my body...

...To think about the gelateria where the hot chocolate is so thick your spoon stands up on its own, leaning in close to your best friend from childhood and giggling, giggling, giggling...

...To think about standing on the edge of the pier, staring out at the Adriatic Sea as its waves ripple the streetlights, this feeling of peace and serenity flooding you and overtaking every synapse...

...To think about home, with its creaky floors and warm-pumpkin walls and the bed you've had since childhood that's still your coziest retreat...

When I sit down to try and write about Italy, about Trieste, about all the things I love from my hometown and my adopted country, I find I don't have the words. The English language falls flat at my fingertips, unable to convey the depth of emotions I have toward that place, unable to truly translate to you the beauty of it, the beauty of its movement, language, of the ethereal feel it has that just wraps itself around me and holds me close to its heart.

I think I'm lucky, so lucky, to have found two places that I love beyond words. And when I leave one, I find myself craving the other desperately.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI'm in South Carolina at the moment, sitting in a comfortable chair in my parents' beautiful home, a home I'm simultaneously jealous and afraid of. Because it's small by suburbia standards but large compared to my place in Brooklyn; because nearly every inch is coated in soft carpet I don't recognize from New York (or Italy); because mornings are slow and the sun seems to blink its eyes open as lazily as I do, rather than darting awake like it does up North.

Things are different in the South, it's true, and a big difference is that down here there's less to distract me and less to satiate my craving for Italy.

So I miss it, with a passion. For the first time in months I've found my fingers itching to buy a plane ticket to Trieste, I've found my stomach collapse at this longing that just eats at me, I've found myself blinking back tears and a lump in my throat because I'm here and not there, here and not there...

I've been asked so many times this weekend why I refuse to move back to South Carolina. There are reasons, one of them being that New York is home now and I don't want to leave it, but a big one that I'm just realizing is that I miss my Italy-home more fiercely when I'm away from my New York-home.

And so, I stay safely cocooned up North, where the people are plenty, the smells abound and the Italy-missing is less intense.

 

On a see-saw: a metaphor (duh) on needing others

Today I see-sawed savagely between emotions, swinging from finger-shaking beginnings of panic to heart-sunk depression to soaring giddiness to just plain tired. It's been an emotional week for me, all told; I've hit some real lows but also had some great fun. There have been tears and this sense of total lostness, like I'm wandering and will never be found.

And I've been hit where I don't want to hurt, where I feel most confident.

In a weird way, I'm super confident that I'm a great barista. It's an odd thing to take pride in, but I do think I'm fairly good not just at preparing food and drink that will make people happy and content, but also at making them feel welcomed, at home, like Albero is a place they can chill and chat and sort of refresh.

I'm not gonna claim to be the reason Albero is that, because my coworkers are incredible, personable and really quite hilarious. They do just fine on their own at making people love the little cafe.

But I do believe I add something.

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And of course, of course, freaking depression has hit that thing that I'm weirdly confident and supremely proud of. I've been anxious over my performance and place in the company, and I've been concerned that maybe, just maybe, I'm not actually great at my job.

You see, some people are better than I am at being a barista. I've been told that I'm not the best, that others do a better job. And of course I translate that to, you're the worst, Karis, get out while you're ahead. Go sit in an office and cry.

I tell people that one of my hidden talents is the ability to turn anything into a negative. You can compliment me, tell me something incredibly nice, and I (almost) guarantee I'll be able to twist it into something horrible.

You're getting so good at making those Cappuccinos, Karis! you say, thinking you're paying me a compliment on my teachability and improvement.

Wow, I can't believe I sucked so bad that people noticed! I translate, not accepting praise because how can it possibly be true? How can anything good be true of me?

That's the root of this week's problems. There's nothing wrong with my job, no areas where I've been told I need to improve upon. It can be stressful, but so can any job. I enjoy my days off, of course, but that doesn't mean I don't love being in the building, pulling shots, baking croissants and talking up my favorite gelato pairing, the blackberry sorbet with chocolate (it's oh-my-lanta delicious, y'all!).

And yet.

And yet I panic, concerned that my bosses think I'm a failed investment and my coworkers giggle behind my back, mocking my incompetence. There are shining moments of goodness, when someone tastes my Latte and raves, someone else tells me the panino I assembled so carefully was delicious...that special moment when a customer howled with laughter at a joke I made and said it was the funniest thing she'd heard all day.

These are the reasons I get out of bed, the reasons I work at a cafe instead of trying to land a job in an office, in my field. Because I love the movement of it, the adrenaline, the humanity. The endless stories that come, the rush of inspiration at every new scrape of the door against the floor, every interesting angle by which the sun slants into the room.

There is so much life in my little cafe, and because I love it I fear losing it.

And so. So I've been shaking and sinking and losing myself in a mire of sadness and worry.

But here's the other thing about today's see-saws. Every time I swung back upwards, it was because of someone. Because a familiar face walked through the door and smiled at me, referenced a random running joke we have. Because a coworker patted me on the back and made a hilarious joke in accented yet beautiful English. Because we were training the new guy, making strangers laugh and feel at home in a place that is so not their home.

IMG_3137Because my photography-inclined coworker took a picture of me with the sun behind and said it was beautiful even though I felt as ugly as possible. Because they asked about recent updates in my life and genuinely, literally cared about my future, took time to ask probing questions and make sure I don't make the wrong decision. Because I'm making friends and it feels good, and I was so scared to leave Farinella because of my family there, but it turns out you can have family in two, three, four places and it's OK, it's all OK.

Because there's always an upswing.

The see-saw might take you down, slam you against the ground with such force your teeth clatter against each other and your butt stings, but it always goes back up. Even better — it eventually levels out. That's the sweet spot: the moment when you're hovering between the two, not on the ground and not in the air, just balanced, just stable.

But like, if you try to see-saw alone, you're gonna end up stuck on the ground or suspended in air. You need another person to balance you out.

We — you, I, your cousin, the dude you saw on the subway — we need each other. Life kinda sorta really sucks when you live it on your own. It's just no good. It's the people that pull us up, the people that balance us out. We can't do any of this alone. There's a reason God created more than just one person; it's because we're helpless on our own.

So today, I'm thankful for the people who pulled me up and balance me out. Sure sometimes they aren't enough to keep me from smashing into the ground, but so far, they've always been there to life me back up.

The romance trope that makes me swoooon is...

I won't lie: I love a good romance.

As much as I'm currently writing a novel that isn't exactly romance (on account of the no "happily ever after" aspect), and as much as I still believe we need more anti-romance books (books without romance, books were there isn't a happily ever after but it's OK, books where it isn't OK...), the truth is I love nothing more than curling up with a romance novel and just...feeling ALL the feels.

During my lite initial research for my Work-in-Progress, I started looking up typical romance tropes. So I could subvert them, of course. But then that just made me think about all the ones I love the most, and how fluttery and gaspy they make me feel, and of course I got all excited about them again.

But there's one I love more than others. The one romance trope that makes me swoon, that makes my head spin, my heart pound and my lips pull up into a grin, is...

*drumroll please*

FAKE DATING.

That's right. I love a good pretend-romance that takes the characters involved (and literally no one else) by surprise.

Think...Jenny Han's TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE. I'm not going to give details because I don't want to spoil the book (I'm assuming you'll read it, because of course you'll read it, because I just told you it's swoon worthy and has my FAVORITE romance trope, so what are you even waiting for!! GO. BUY. IT.)

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Are you back? Let's continue.

For the uninitiated, a "trope" is something like a theme, in literature, that is used fairly often and in a wide variety of work, to carry the story. For example, "Instalove," one that a lot of people love to hate, is basically "love at first sight" on steroids. It's that moment when you're at the party and you're kinda pissed and feeling annoyed and you wish you were anywhere else and you look up and *OMG* there he is! You lock eyes and your heart pounds and your mouth goes dry and you know, you just know, he's The One.

But done better than that (hopefully).

I am an absolute sucker for fake dating, in which the two characters come to an arrangement, for whatever reason, to pretend to date. This could be to make an ex jealous, to get someone's attention, or even to protect yourself from unwanted advances. It could be out of boredom or as an experiment or because your father wants to hook you up with his business partner's godson and you reallllly don't like said godson.

You don't like the person you're fake dating. You don't want to date him (or her!) for real. This is just a business arrangement, plain and simple! You'll hold hands in public, maybe kiss on the cheek, perhaps even get fake-engaged so you can stay in the States instead of being deported back to Canada if you're Sandra Bullock...but you don't truly love the person.

Until, of course, holding their hand makes yours all tingly, and causes shivers to run up your spine and when they let you go you feel sad. For no reason, though, because you don't like them!

But when you share your fake engagement story you find yourself smiling like a silly goose and thinking about how nice it would be...but no! You don't like them.

And then the crowd cheers and asks for a kiss, and next thing you know your lips are just barely brushing and it's fire and excitement (or it's sweet and tender...or awkward and adorable...idk man, it's your kiss with your fake boyfriend/girlfriend!

And suddenly...suddenly you wish the dates weren't fake. You've fallen in love.

This is my very favorite romance trope. Partly because it's a great way for the hero to be all BROODING (and obviously I'm here for @BroodingYaHero, so I love me a good brooding hero), and partly because I just really love watching people who don't want to fall in love end up in love.

It's so satisfying. Look at those lil' suckers, all unintentionally happy and gushing and annoying. Ugh. I love it.

So there it is: my favorite romance trope! What's yours? Leave a comment below and let's chat :) Also — this post is brought to you because I'm a #BroodyBFF, part of the street team to rave about this book coming out soon. If you wanna know more, check out this post about how I met everybody's favorite-least-favorite satirical yet sassy Twitter account, and maybe give the book a good ole preorder :)

Doing important work and being adorable: a profile of Sandhya Menon

When Sandhya Menon moved to America at age 15, she imagined the transition would be easy. She had, after all, spent her childhood bouncing between her home country of India and various other Middle Eastern countries. "Boy, was I wrong!" she said. "It was a huge culture shock...I had a hard time understanding American turns of phrase, especially while I was in high school. But once I acclimated, I really began to love being part of the diaspora here in the US."

I've been a fan of Sandhya's since her upcoming debut, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI, first crossed my Twitter feed last fall. The book, which I've had the pleasure of reading, is an adorable story about first love, pursuing your passions, and what happens when generations get their signals crossed. It's cute; it's funny; and it showcases character growth through pretty much every single person in the pages. It's a great work of young adult literature, and I highly encourage everyone to go, NOW, and pre-order it.

(I'll wait.)

(In the meantime, look at the beautiful cover!)

WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI front

Did you buy it? Good. Now let's talk some more about Sandhya.

In true adorable-human fashion, she cited as her greatest accomplishment her family before her work (although both made the cut).

"My very happy fifteen-year marriage, the fact that I have two healthy, happy kids, and my books all come to mind!" she said.

As for the hardest thing about writing, "I never wish I could quit," she answered. "That probably sounds so saccharine and idiotic, but it's true! I love this gig and the freedom/honor/privilege of making stories for others to read."

She did acquiesce that there is one technical aspect that's difficult: the first revision she has to work on after a draft is completed, the one she has to do on her own before the book is ready to be seen by anyone else.

"It always feels slightly overwhelming," she said. But she loves "losing myself in the universe of the characters." She quoted Stephen King and added, "I love that feeling of having to remind myself that I belong in this world rather than the one I was just romping around in!"

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During the childhood years she spent in India, Sandhya said she remembers "throwing rocks up at mangoes so we could eat them once they fell!" She lived in Mumbai, also known as Bombay, where her neighborhood was full of trees and parks.

And once she learned the art of writing as a kindergarten student, well, she was hooked.

"I began to write stories and poems," she said. "It's all I ever knew!"

Although she doesn't remember a particular "first story" that spurred her writing, she does remember one incident of taking a real-life event and fictionalizing it.

"The possibility that life itself was full of stories totally fired me up," she said, "and led to a lot more stories."

One such story is that of Dimple and Rishi. It's a young adult contemporary novel about two Indian-American teenagers whose parents want to arrange their marriage. Rishi, traditional and family-oriented, is all about it. He wants to please his parents. Dimple, passionate about coding and fiercely independent, is less enthused. When they meet at a summer coding camp, well...let's just say things don't go over as well as Rishi would have dreamed.

But WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI is a romance. That's all I'll say about what happens next, other than...guys, this book is so good. It's one you want on your shelves, believe me. Not only is it physically beautiful, it's full of heart, laughter, fun...and some uncomfortable scenes.

"Something that I struggled with was acknowledging casual racism in the story," Sandhya said. There's one scene where the two protagonists are at a restaurant and are faced with some really terrible, tone-deaf, racist comments. "Once I wrote [that] scene...I sent my editor an email asking if she thought some people would have a hard time buying it. All of those comments are things I have personally experienced, but to someone who isn't a child of immigrant parents or living in the diaspora, they might seem completely overblown."

Fortunately, Sandhya's editor, also the child of immigrants, encouraged her to leave the scene as-is. "Since then," she said, "I've gotten quite a few messages about that scene resonating with readers...so I'm glad she did!"

I asked Sandhya if she thinks her work is groundbreaking. If you tap, for just a few minutes, into the discussions online about the YA book community, you'll find a ton of talk about diversity and representation in literature, and how hard it can be for people of color (or any other marginalization) to get their work published.

And here is Sandhya, Indian, immigrant, writing a book about two brown children of immigrants that's getting a ton of buzz and is being published by Simon & Schuster, one of the "Big 5." She's doing huge things. So I wanted to know if she recognizes the huge things she's doing.

First off, she clarified that this book isn't just "hers." It's her story, yes, the one she wrote, but she credits the Simon & Schuster team as well as her agent and beta readers, as well.

"I think of "my work"...as groundbreaking in that it's a book about two brown teens just living their best lives, falling in love, chasing their dreams, and having a happy ending," she said. "The media is full of the "bad" or "brave" brown/black/gay/disabled/trans person narrative, and I feel like there are so many other stories we have to tell.

"We are not just villains or tragic characters," she added. "We have just as much depth and breadth as anyone else."

Ollie snow 8 weeks

To me, that's a powerful, important sentiment. Sandhya is such a sweet, fun person, and it was a pleasure to get to know her a little bit through this piece. If you're not satisfied and want to hear more from her, follow her on Twitter or Instagram (which is full of cute pictures of her puppy!) and sign up for her newsletter.

And if you want more of her talking, check out her episode of the podcast 88 Cups of Tea, an incredible writing podcast she was featured on recently.

 

A depression casualty: hope

One of the worst things about depression is how it clouds out my optimistic side. Because if I had to guess, based on past experience and patterns of my brain, I'd say I'm inherently an optimist. There's this stubborn streak of hope that courses through me, that keeps me fighting no matter how hard things get.

It's why I keep applying for jobs out of my league, keep plugging away editing my book, keep hoping that someday things will get better, someday I'll find love, someday I'll be published.

Enter depression, stage left. Suddenly, all the hope is sucked out of me, and I'm just absolutely, certainly positive that nothing will ever get better.

No one will ever love me, because how could they? Look at me. I mean, just took a good, long look. 

You see it, don't you? The truth, that I'm unlovable.

No one will ever publish my book, because why would they? Read it, just read it, and you'll see — it sucks as much as I do.

You can tell, can't you? The truth is, I suck at writing.

Nothing will ever get better, because of course it won't. Life sucks. Take a good long look at the world, at everything happening...there is no hope.

You know it too, don't you? The truth, that hope is a lie.

Those are the words that depression whispers to me. When I'm awake, she clouds my thoughts, making it impossible to focus on getting anything done, on trying to overcome by dint of proof.

When I'm asleep, my dreams are willowy and whispy and in the dark there's this soft voice that coos, gentle as a dove, that there is no hope.

I've said it before: depression steals hope. It just sucks it out of you.

In my brain, somewhere, in some deep recess, floats the knowledge that depression is a liar. That hope is the one who's correct, depression the one who needs to vanish.

But I become so overcome, to the point where reason is false and falsehoods reasonable. To the point where the most ridiculous of statements make the most sense.

I feel myself slipping through the rabbit hole today. I feel like I can't breathe, can't think clearly. I feel like love is a lost cause for me, publication a pipe dream.

Those are the two things I long for the most, if I'm being perfectly honest: I deeply desire someone to love me in that fiery, romantic way that novels are written about; and I crave publication. I want to see my words in print, want to hold my book in my hands and see others read it and I want them to tell me I'm amazing, and I want to give them some sort of hope.

It's weird, that the thing that eludes me the most is the thing I want to give others: hope.

Because I know that it will be OK in the end.

For you, that is.

I talk about this with my counselor all the time...how easy it is for me to believe all the right things for everybody else. How easy it is for me to believe that love will come, that dreams will unfold, that hope is true, when it comes to someone else's life.

In my life, though, I anticipate and expect and acknowledge that nothing good can come.

Because I don't deserve it, you see.

 

I don't know why I don't deserve it and you do; I just know that that's the case. I don't know why my lil sperm was the fish that swam the best, that fertilized the egg the fastest, but for some reason it was and so I'm alive and not someone else. And that feels like a big, giant, glaring mistake. My birth? A mistake. It should have been someone else.

So I'm living my life just trying to make up for the fact that I stole life from someone more deserving.

So of course you will find love; of course your dreams will come true; of course you'll be able to keep hoping. Of course those things, because those things are true, those things are right, those things are reality.

For you.

Me, though?

Nah.

This is how I am. And then there's depression, which slithers in and whispers the above things, taking from me the two things I hope for the most, as well as the very hope which keeps me going.

Days like today, I just want to curl up in bed and eat popcorn and cry. I want someone to come sit with me and stroke my hair and say it's OK. I want to lose myself in a story until I can't remember reality.

Those are temporary fixes, though. They're not gonna solve the root problem.

And so. So today I'm going to finish cleaning my room, because a clean room makes a marginally lighter heart. I'm going to write, edit and submit, because those are things that bring me joy. I'm going to go to Books of Wonder to see one of my favorite authors, and I'm going to come home and sleep and wake up and go to therapy and group therapy and talk to my counselor about what's going on, and learn valuable coping skills.

Because the band-aids I listed above aren't going to help for long. And I need something that will.

Today I'm gonna force myself to hope. As much as I don't feel like it, I'm gonna do it.

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How this #broodybff met her Broody, Heroic YA Leading Man

Y'all, this blog is about to get EVEN MORE wild and varied, because I'm gonna start posting Broody BFF posts! What is that, you ask? I'm so glad you did, because I would LOVE to explain!
Let's take it back to the beginning, shall we?
During one of my random Twitter scrolling phases, I stumbled across a retweet of an absolutely hilarious Tweet by this account, @BroodingYAHero.
Now, no one knows this because I've never had a chance to tell anyone, but I ADORE parody Twitter accounts. Like @GuyInYourMFA, one of the first I came across, which killed me because it's just SO GOOD.
Anyway, back to my broody leading man, Broody McHottiePants. His Twitter is just total🔥. As someone who's a self-described YA obsessee (I read it, I write it, I blog it, I sometimes even dream it), there was so much to love about this Twitter.

I mean, let's start with how on point and sassy it is!

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If you know me, you know there's little I love more than a good dose of sassiness. Whether I'm doling it out or reeling from a well-placed barb, I have a well-developed appreciation for some fine sass.

And Brooding YA Hero is nothing if not sassy.

There's something refreshing and necessary about seeing someone point out tropes, stereotypes and potential pitfalls in a genre you're trying to write, and that's why I first fell for Broody: because of the Twitter account.

So imagine my surprise and utter delight when I discovered there's a book! Coming! Out! This! Year! based on the account! Check out the description here. No, seriously, go read it and add it to your Goodreads page. Don't have one? That's OK, it's already on Amazon, so you can preorder! I'll wait while you do so.

OK, moving on. So I discovered the Twitter...I discovered the book...imagine my utter delight when I discovered that a street team was being put together to promote it before its release! Comprised of a bunch of super cool, bookish and awesome people (I'm currently meeting them all via Facebook, so I'm being utterly honest when I say these people are SO COOL. I applied to be a Broody BFF, cause duh, and IMAGINE MY TOTAL DELIGHT WHEN I GOT IN!!!

So there you have it. The true story of a friendship for the ages (cause we all know I'm totes the best friend and not the love interest in the YA of my own life) between me and @BroodingYAHero. I'm honestly so excited for this book. It's gonna be a total delight to read, and I'm gonna spend the months leading up to its release posting here, on Twitter or on Instagram about the book. So do yourselves a favor and follow not just me but also my main man, and let's do this!

Why I Can't Get Behind This Article

There’s this article that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s finagled its way into my mind and won’t go away, won’t let me stop thinking about it. And not in a good way.

I can’t stop thinking about an article against the show 13 Reasons Why not because of the well-thought out reasons against the TV show, or because of the author’s self-promoted credentials as a mental health advocate…it’s because of this one line. [Not linking to the article b/c I don't want to give it traction or send hate the author's way.]

If you suffer from suicidal thoughts, I want to warn you here that what I’m about to quote might hurt you. Might make you sad. So feel free to stop reading.

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In the fourth paragraph of the article, the author says—you know what, I'm not going to quote it verbatim because it's dangerous. Basically, she says she used to pray her husband's suicide attempts would succeed.

I read her words and just…I felt my heart cave in on itself. I felt my breathing shallow and my lungs collapse. I felt fear and shock and sorrow and my fingers started trembling and didn’t stop for hours.

Because I’ve been there; not in the author’s spot, but in her husband’s. I’ve been in a place of intense pain that has left me reeling, feeling out of options and as though the only good recourse is to die. To inflict my own death. I have wanted to kill myself, have even tried to kill myself.

One of the things that has saved me, saved my life, is the interference of friends. Friends who stepped up to say, “Karis, your death will not help us. Your death will hurt us.” I thank God daily for those friends who implored me to stay alive because they needed me.

You see, the reason I wanted to die is because I thought it would make the world a better place. I’ve always wanted to change the world, to improve it, to rock its foundations in a wild way, and my depression eats at me and twists that desire into something nefarious, convincing me that the way to accomplish that is simple, really: to kill myself.

But my friends, they've tried to show me that isn’t true. They've endeavoured to impress upon me that my death would do harm, not good.

If I had learned, now or ever, that they were praying for me to die — wow, the damage that would do.

The damage this article did to me, even though I don’t know the author and know she isn’t talking about me. Her confession opens the door to that sentiment being the truth.

I believe in the right to communicate and the importance of vulnerability. But there is a responsible way to share, and in this case, the responsible thing would be for the author of the piece to shut up about those thoughts. If she must share them, she should have explained just how misguided she was. She never really does. She says, briefly, that she was misguided, but she never shoulders the responsibility of her horrifying thought. She blames it on a misunderstanding of depression brought about by culture, in part.

But apart from dangerous, that prayer is disgusting. And you know what, I don’t care that she claims to have prayed it for her husband’s sake; I believe wholeheartedly that she also prayed it for her own sake. So she could finally be free.

Maybe that’s my own depression twisting her experience into something nefarious, but you know what, that’s what words do. They have so much power, more than you could ever imagine, and to fling words like that, words with such sharp edges, into the world willy nilly, is something I find irresponsible.

I find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that the author considers herself a depression advocate, when she seems to have so little idea of the harm her words could do. Merely four days before reading this article, I was severely suicidal, and everything was a sign that I should kill myself.

Her confession opens the door to the possibility that her prayer is one my loved ones have prayed. I can’t get that thought unstuck from my mind: that if she prays that way, maybe the people who love me the most pray so as well.

That’s not merely misguided; that’s betrayal to the utmost degree.

This article, that paragraph in particular, was supremely unnecessary, misguided and virulently dangerous.

So if you’re reading this, know: your death is not going to help anybody, least of all you. No matter what anyone believes or did believe at any point. Know that you can reach out for help: there is a suicide prevention line, 1-800-273-8255, that you can call for help. There are options and there is hope. Don’t listen to this lie.

And if you're someone who's ever prayed that...acknowledge that's a wrong prayer. Acknowledge it's selfish. There is forgiveness for terrible thoughts and prayers, I'm not saying you're condemned for them, but you need to recognize the selfishness of it. And move on.

And if you've had those thoughts, for the love of all things good, don't share it with your depressed friend or family member! I mean, please.

Sleeping ~ Instead of Living: a vlog story

Yesterday I published the first full episode of my new vlog series, entitled "Living ~ When You Just Wanna Sleep." Of course, since I'm me, before sharing it with the world, I shared it with a few friends to get their opinions, and they were fans. Which meant the absolute world to me. So, girded with their supportive fortitude, I sallied forth into the world of publishing vlogs! It's a scary world out there, scarier than the world of being painfully open and honest in writing, because in the world of videos, people see your face; they see the way your eyes droop when you're sad, the way that circle of fat around your (my) belly makes you (me) look like a Pillsbury dough boy, the way your hair floofs out of control and has to be tamed, repeatedly, during one 30-second filming...they see all your pores, the literal and metaphorical ones.

It's terrifying, but for someone like me, who thrives on being known intimately, it's also thrilling.

Ever since I was in high school, I had this need, bordering on compulsion, for people to know what was going on behind my eyes. It's fascinating to me, how little we can truly know about someone. They can smile and laugh and inside they're mentally throwing knives and screeching and pulling at their hair and sobbing but all we see is happiness. It's fascinating and more than a little heart-breaking.

And back in high school, my depression was beginning to make me act different, act weird, and I had this intense desire that they should know why.

So in college I began writing about it, and well...the rest is history.

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These videos are going to be a monthly installment, and hopefully each one will be better than the last. I'll film bits and pieces and flashes of my life throughout the month — images of myself walking through NYC, myself with friends, myself at home being sad or ultra happy or what have you — and then a narration thread. It's going to be an inside look at depression; at what it's like, really and truly and as unfilteredly as possible, to live with depression.

To live, in short, when you'd rather be sleeping.

This video has a few holes, one of which being that I don't really go into why quitting my job helps my depression, because I've talked so much about my love for pizza-slinging. It's confusing, if you don't know what all happened in the last few weeks.

Basically, it just...became too much. A combination of the management, angry customers and me being overworked conspired to create a fissure in me, one that needed to be soothed by taking a break. And when I went back to work...it wasn't the same. I wasn't in love anymore. I was stressed, having panic attacks in the hours leading up to my shift. I was scared of getting yelled at by any number of people, scared of messing up.

I also lived with a constant fear of losing my job. I can't go too in-depth as to why, but let's just say...the restaurant business is a tough one. For everyone involved, from upper management to lower management to employees to guests. It's fast-paced and high-intensity and it breaks you quickly and easily.

So my mind was filled with a constant rattle of noise, a constant stream of fearful thoughts and confusion and stress and sorrow and BAM! depressive episode.

[Someday maybe I'll tell you guys what triggered it. It's a doozy. And yes — it's work-related.]

So that's some background on why the vlog in general, why the job-quitting, why all of it...

I know not everyone understands my compulsion to share. Let's just say, that it helps me as much as it might help others. And if it does help you, my sharing: tell me! It gives me strength on the days when I fear I'm doing nothing but hurting this world. On the days when my brain is eaten alive by lying zombies which hiss that I'm a cancer on society, I remember messages, comments, emails saying the opposite...and I am comforted.

Thank you for that comfort, dear readers and friends and followers. I'm doing this for you. And also for me. :)

He is here: Easter reflections on depression and faith

Today is Easter. In my faith, it's a day created for celebration. Celebration of a death meant to save, and celebration of a resurrection. It's an important day; without Easter, there's really no Christianity. Because without Easter, without Christ's resurrection, well...his movement dies, as does our belief. So today, today is a day for celebrating. And the weather here in New York played nice: it's glorious and warm and clear blue skies and simply ideal.

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It's a beautiful day on a hundred different levels. I should be rejoicing. I should be dancing, laughing, smiling until my cheeks are sore.

Instead I'm sitting on my couch in semi-darkness, wondering where my happiness got chased off to. Wondering where my celebrating spirit is hiding.

It's not that I don't believe, don't have faith. I do, honestly and truly, as wild as it might seem, believe that 2,000 years ago a man died on a cross, and that man was God, and that man rose from the dead, and his sacrifice eradicates sin from me and confirms me to an eternity of heavenly celebration.

I believe that somehow, for some reason, God created me, fashioned me with his power, and smiled upon me, loving what He had made. In the core, secretest part of my heart, I do believe that I am loved by a powerful, eternal being who created all.

And yet. And yet that belief, the knowledge of that love, it doesn't erase my suffering. It doesn't cancel out my depression. My faith is incredible and sustaining on so many levels; yet it doesn't cure my mind of this disease that ravages it.

And so on this day of celebration, I grieve. I grieve not because I have any reason to, not because there is anything lacking in my life or faith; I merely grieve because that is how my brain is wired.

I grieve because sorrow feels ever-present, choking hope from me. As much of a stubborn optimist as I naturally am, depression seeks to cancel that out, seeks to strangle me into a pessimistic person, and sometimes succeeds. So no matter what, I don't have hope for this life.

If you're getting down to the meat of it, it's this: I don't see a way into lasting happiness. I can't imagine a future in which this weariness doesn't claw at my throat, in which the certainty of failure doesn't hold my hand and match me step for step. I struggle to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, mortally speaking.

In recent days, I've reminded myself, time and again, of the meaning of my tattoo: that He is here. That His presence is undeniable. It doesn't mean He's here to walk me out of the darkness, necessarily. It simply means He is with me in the waiting, in the torment, in the grieving.

At a Good Friday service at my church, Hillsong NYC, our pastor Carl Lentz spoke for just a few minutes about the six hours between Christ's nailing to the cross and the moment He gave up His life. He reminded us that for those six hours, Jesus hung in an agony of physical pain and probably mental anguish and doubt. But he persevered. At any moment he could have given it up, shrugged and used His power to get off the cross.

But He didn't.

He hung there for those six torturous hours.

I'm in my own six hours. They've lasted months if not years and I don't see an end anytime soon. That doesn't mean there is no end; relief could come tomorrow for all I know, and I could be released from this depressive episode's clutches.

Or not. Or the six hours could be the rest of my life on Earth.

And that thought...it sucks. It really sucks. It's a reason to grieve, and so I'm grieving, because I have little sense of hope of ever being released from this torture that is depression; from this craving to cut, this desire for death.

At the same time...He is here. He is with me. He hung on for six agonizing hours. And he is with me in this darkness.

I was taught growing up that Christ was tempted in all the ways we are, that He suffered all the ways we do. I take comfort in choosing to believe that maybe this means he also despaired. He lost hope. He lost the light.

But He didn't lose his mission, his faith, his belief in His Father's presence.

I'm gonna strive to live like that. Live like Christ did for those six hours, even if that's the rest of my life.

Depression eats hope. And faith, faith takes your hand and walks you through the tunnel.

He is here. With me, in depression.

Thank God.