Mental health update: a bad depressive episode

Hey lovely blog-readers and friends and family peoples. I wanted to give out a little mental health update, and it felt too long and personal and everything to just post on Facebook or Twitter, so I'm blogging about it. You should be warned going into it, though, that this post will deal with mental health issues including depression and suicidal thoughts.

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Basically...I'm not OK. I wasn't feeling great all week, beginning with an incident last Friday that led to very strong suicidal feelings (including making a plan to kill myself). It passed—at least the suicidal part did—and although I was still having panic attacks, depressive thoughts and all-around sorrow over the next few days, I though I was past the worst of it.

Cue yesterday. Although I know what the trigger for this latest episode was, it doesn't change the fact that things have devolved to a point far beyond what I logically should be feeling today. And so, yesterday. Yesterday I began to have a panic attack which quickly turned into uncontrollable sobbing and with that came thoughts—a desire to hurt myself—to potentially do more than that.

I left the house in a rush, worried that I would end up harming myself if I stayed. So I ran out and met a good friend, emailing my therapist and psychiatrist as I went.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWhich leads us to now. I'm sitting on my best friend's couch in Alphabet City, view of One World Trade Center to my left, "Friends" on TV and help within easy reach should I need it. I'm taking a break, surrounding myself with friends and staying safe. Because after a chat with my doctor yesterday, we concluded that my options were simple: find somewhere to stay for a few nights and someone(s) to be with for a few days, or go to the emergency room and check myself into a hospital.

For safe-keeping.

Because of the fear that if left alone or to go about my normal life, I might harm myself, temporarily or in a more permanent sense. I say that not to worry or freak you out, but to impress upon you the seriousness of the situation.

There was fear for my life. I felt fear for my life, as did my doctor and others concerned. So I'm hiding out in Manhattan for a few days, taking things slowly, and riding out this latest episode.

Episodes like this don't last forever. They come, they wrack you and wring you dry, and then they leave. It's mostly a matter of riding it out as safely as possible until you can return to a semblance of normalcy.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI say "semblance." There's little normalcy in life when you're depressed. Almost every day is another opportunity to be sad, to be wracked with sorrow. Even this past Sunday, as I left a wonderful service at church...I was crying. I took a picture while waiting for the subway cause, well, that's what I do. I chronicle what depression looks like.

It looks like that. It looks like waking up, getting dressed nicely and crying off all your makeup.

It looks like going out, smiling and laughing with friends but as soon as you're alone, sinking so quickly you can barely catch your breath.

It looks like being chronically and hopelessly depressed. It looks like knowing that a "cure," a "healing" is unlikely, and slowly (strugglingly) coming to terms with that. It looks like accepting that sometimes sick days mean mind-sick days, because when your brain is against you there's little you can do.

And it looks like worrying about this, because I know so many will take these words and be sad about them, when really...this is me being hopeful. This is me saying, "it's going to be OK." Because in the end—this is a good scenario.

The bad scenario is one in which I didn't reach out, didn't ask for help, didn't take time off or work to get through this. The bad scenario is one in which I hurt myself or worse. The bad scenario is...it's really bad.

The good scenario is the yet-sucky one I'm living, and yeah, as much as it stinks that this, what's happening right now, is considered good...it could be worse. It could be much worse.

So I'm grateful for what I do have: life. Friends who can help me. The ability to reach out. A support system.

I know I have much to be grateful for, and I am grateful for it all. But that doesn't negate that I have depression, a disease, a chemical imbalance, something hard to manage. It's real, and it's hard, and it's chronic. My depression does not mean I am not happy or joyful or grateful.

All it means is that I have depression. I want y'all to take hope from that. Knowing that even in the darkness, I see light. I know that God is with me even in this time, as dark as it gets, and I know that the act of sinking is not a rejection of Him. It is simply the way it is.

If you have questions—encouragement—concerns—feel free to comment or email or reach out. I can't promise I'll respond immediately, but I will read and be grateful. <3

 

The little things that save my life

I've been depressed lately. A lot. In a very real, very scary, very hide-under-the-covers-and-never-come-out way, a very quit-your-job-and-disappear-into-the-woods way. In a way that called up all the memories of past depression. A way that felt like it would totally sink me. It hasn't sunk me yet, though. I'm still plugging onward, as much as I wish I could get a doctors' note to take a three-day break from, well, everything. I'm still going.

And as a gratefulness exercise, here's a list of the small things that save my life regularly. Well, they're not all small, not to me. They're huge to me. To those around me, they might seem miniscule. I guess it's just a matter of perception...

  1. The sounds of Brooklyn life amplified by an open window on a warm-ish spring day.
  2. "No, Karis," as said to me by all the guys in the kitchen, a thousand times a night. The way they tease me and ask if I'm going to cry again today.
  3. A silly texting conversation about crushes with a refreshing friend.
  4. Being told I'm "cute, fun and interesting" by a date who is taking a few moments to recover from finding out he's the first date (LOL).
  5. That specific chill that comes in April and May, that sun-filtered kinda-warmth that's not cloying or thick, not summer yet.
  6. The messages of love, hope and encouragement sent on Facebook by people who know I'm struggling.
  7. Being taken seriously when I seriously say I wish I were not alive.
  8. Sheila taking the time to say hello.
  9. Selling one Margherita and one coke at 7:45 p.m. every night to the same bright girl.
  10. Having crushes again.
  11. Bashful looks and prospects.
  12. Young adult novels — writing and reading them.
  13. The resurgence of hope that comes after a deep low.
  14. Rowan, and Nick, and Chi, and my Connect Girls, and Bethany, and my roommates (all of them), and Becca and too many more to name.
  15. You guys.

I dunno, I'm sure there's more. This is just my way of saying: it's the small things, guys. The smell, the sound, the taste of spring. The silly shenanigans that go on at work. The friends that laugh at my jokes even when I'm so sad. The adrenaline rush that comes from performing, even when you're not on stage, even when you're just playing the role "charming pizza-slinger." The hope of traveling to new places. The knowledge you can't experience anything new if you're dead.

These are the things that keep me alive. These are the things that help me go on.

And this — this blog post. Writing. Using words to spread a message. Seeing that message read and understood. Connecting with someone because of how I string together some letters and words and form a sentence and weave an image.

It's the little things.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IagRZBvLtw?ecver=2]

April's featured KALEIDOSCOPE content!

Hello lovely Kaleidoscope subscribers!! This is the special featured content I promised you in the newsletter — I'm so happy to see you made it over here :) Sooooooo, without further ado: this month, I'm going to let y'all read the FIRST CHAPTER of my novel! This is super exciting because very few people have read it and I'm super weird about letting people read my work-in-progress novels (you can ask my mom if you doubt me! Speaking of which — Hi, Mom!). If you want to read more, you can totally email me and ask for the whole thing...you just have to promise to give feedback on it afterwards!

And without further ado: chapter one of SAVING GRACE.

CHAPTER ONE

AUGUST, 2017

 

I’ve stumbled into this porta potty that smells of sewage death in the baking summer heat of Tennessee for one express purpose: to take pill after pill after pill. To watch the world fade to black around me. To let my breathing slow, slow, slow, stop.

To die, in short. To erase all mention and memory of Grace Hamrit from this earth. To leave behind the pain and the gaping hole Jackson left.

I rifle through the duffel bag, past my phone, lit up with messages from Mason — my heart clenches at the thought of him — and my fingers close around one of Michael’s pill bottles.

This will do.

I pull the bottle out and unscrew the cap, shake some pills into my hand.

They are pink and peach and purple. They are chalky and shaped like dinosaurs.

A laugh, disbelieving and loud, bursts from my lips. It fills the tiny porta potty space and the sound of it, the ridiculousness of the situation, overcomes me and I laugh harder. I bend over and clutch my knees with white knuckles and hysterical laughter envelopes me, the reverberations of sound chasing away the darkness.

When I can breathe again, I look at the bottle in my hand. The label says it’s a bottle of dinosaur vitamins.

That’s right.

Vitamins.

I came here to overdose and was going to kill myself with vitamins for kids, shaped like dinosaurs. Fucking hell.

The hilarity overtakes me again and I’m cracking up some more, sliding down so my butt hovers over the floor and my back is wedged against the side of the bathroom.

And when I’m done laughing, I feel…better. Light, as though somehow laughter is some brand of magic that releases all the sorrow and the hurt and suddenly I feel like tomorrow will be better.

I mean, obviously there’s a reason the pill bottle I pulled out was full of vitamins and not real drugs.

Maybe the universe is saying it’s not my time to die yet.

Maybe it’s saying I do get a second chance.

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Someone knocks on the door. “Hello?” a female voice calls, and I push myself to my feet.

“Just a second,” I respond. I stuff everything back in the duffel bag, give myself an appraising glance in the mirror, and turn to leave.

It’s time for Grace Hamrit’s life to start over.

I step out of the bathroom and am temporarily blinded by the amount of bedazzle on the shirt in front of me.

"Holy shit, you're sparkling!" I say, then clamp my mouth shut. The girl in front of me, whose hair is cropped short and blue-black and whose skin is perfectly the color of honey, rears her head back and laughs.

"That's exactly what I was going for," she answers, holding her top out with her fingers so I can really take in the sequins and fake gems attached.

"Really?" I question, and her laugh is rich.

"Nah," she says, "my little sister got ahold of it in the car." Then she does something I don't expect. She holds out her hand to shake mine. "I'm Lizbeth."

That's when I do something I don't expect. I take her hand and squeeze it. "Sarah," I say, shocking myself again with the lie.

"Nice to meet ya, Sarah," she says. "What brings you to Knoxville?"

I shrug and tell her part of the truth. "Spontaneous cross-country adventure, I guess?”

Lizbeth's grin splits her face in two even halves and hits me with as much brightness as her shirt.

“That’s awesome,” she answers. “Where are you staying?”

“Uh,” I answer, thrown. Where am I staying? “Uh,” I repeat, like an idiot.

Lizbeth’s eyes widen. “You don’t have anywhere to stay?” she questions. “You just got on a bus to Knoxville without a plan?”

“I’m feeling judged here,” I think…then realize I’ve gone ahead and said it aloud. I clap a hand over my mouth in horror, but Lizbeth’s grin flashes across her face again.

“Well, we wouldn’t want that, now would we?” she fires back, eyes sparkling. “Listen, if you don’t have anywhere to stay…” she hesitates for a second, glances over her shoulder, and cocks her head to the side. Then she whips back around to face me and her expression is wide open and shining. “You can stay with us for a while.”

“Us?” I ask dumbly.

She rolls her eyes dramatically. “Yes, me and my family, silly Sarah,” she says, and I laugh at myself.

“Um, I mean, are you — I don’t know, I don’t want to impose…” That, and, she could be part of a serial killer family for all I know.

Her laugh surprises me, once again rich and dark and full of flavor. “Please,” she says. “My mom’s got five kids and seven siblings and we’re always having people over. We’re a big Mexican way station for lost souls. We’d love to have you.”

I’m still a little hesitant, mostly because of the serial killer possibilities.

But I take a good look at Lizbeth, at the shirt her sister sequined, at the way her smile slides onto her face so easily, at the way everything about her is so open and honest, and I think…well, maybe I’ll take my chances and hang out at the big Mexican way station.

“I’m definitely a lost soul,” I find myself saying, “so I guess that qualifies me for at least a night or two, right?”

Her grin is blinding when it comes. “Absolutely!” she says. She reaches out and grabs my duffel bag and starts walking away. “Come on, Sarah, come meet the family!”

I follow her, slowly at first, but she’s walking so fast I have to speed up in order to stay even with her.

She walks me to a minivan on the other side of the parking lot that’s overflowing with small kids. A woman, maybe in her mid-forties, sits behind the steering wheel, staring at us, eyes narrowed.

“Hola, Mama!” Lizbeth calls out as we walk up. “I found a stray!”

The woman’s face clears up immediately and a smile, carbon copy of Lizbeth’s, spreads across her face. She steps out of the car and my eyes travel up, up, up. The woman is at least six feet tall, towering over me and her daughter, but her smile is still warm and disarming.

“Hola,” she says to me. “I’m Marina,” she says, extending a hand to me. “Lizbeth’s mother,” she adds, even though I had figured that much out already. Nonetheless, I smile like this is news to me and incline my head.

I’m not sure what’s the most polite way to greet her. Lizbeth said she’s Mexican, and I feel like they probably have different norms and rules and I don’t know what they are.

But the longer I’m silent, the more Lizbeth and Marina stare at me, so I clear my throat and just dive in. “Hola, Marina,” I say, reaching back to ninth grade Spanish to remember what comes next, hoping my attempt to speak Spanish will endear me to them. “Como estas?”

Both Marina and Lizbeth’s grins widen and Marina’s eyes shine. “Muy bien, gracias. Tell me, what’s your name? I assume we can’t just call you ‘stray’ the whole time you’re with us,” she continues, giving Lizbeth a slightly chiding look. Lizbeth looks half bashful, half unconcerned, and says, “This is Sarah, Mama.”

At that moment, a small bundle of speed bowls into my legs. It would have knocked me over, but when I say “small” I mean literally tiny. The girl who’s looking up at me with huge brown eyes, arms wrapped around my legs, can’t be more than three years old, but she’s about half the size of a normal three-year-old.

“Hi, Sarah,” the girl says. “I’m Caroline. I have sequins.” She blinks up at me until Lizbeth giggles and pries her away.

“This is my bedazzling little sister,” she explains. “Caroline, get in the car and give Sarah a break. Maybe you can bedazzle her later.”

Caroline’s grin droops, but she obeys her sister.

Then Lizbeth turns around and, in Spanish too quick for me to understand, says something that immediately sends the other three girls scrambling back into the car. Marina nods and smiles at me. “Shotgun is reserved for guests, Sarah, is that OK?” she asks, and a warmth fills my stomach. It’s a small gesture, but all I ever wanted was to ride in the front seat. Jackson and I used to have screaming matches over who could sit there, and Mom would break us up. Inevitably, she always gave the honor to Jackson.

“That’s great,” I say.

The thirty-minute ride to the family home is honestly one of the loudest things I’ve ever experienced. Not only is there music blasting from the speakers, but each of the five daughters is carrying on her own part of a huge family conversation that I can’t possibly understand. It’s in English, but they speak simultaneously and loudly and I can’t even tell who’s saying what, much less what it relates to.

But I’m not mad. Instead, I just lean my head back, close my eyes, and soak in the noise. It’s the sound of a family that’s happy just to be around each other. At one point, I feel eyes on me and glance over to see Marina observing me. She smiles when she catches my eyes.

“We’re a loud group,” she says, without apology.

“I love it,” I answer. “My family was always so quiet. I like the noise.”

I realize after I say that I don’t want to talk about my family. Fortunately, Marina doesn’t press. She just nods. “Well, you’re lucky,” she says. “My sisters are out of town with their kids until tomorrow, so you’re the only ‘stray’ we’ll have tonight. It’ll give you time to acclimate before they all flood in.”

Her smile is warm and conspiratorial, the kind of look I feel like moms should give their daughters, and I have the wild thought that I should beg this woman to adopt me and make me a part of her family.

But then I remember that I’m lying to her about everything from why I’m here to the most basic thing, my name, and shame floods me, turning the warm feeling in my gut sour.

I’m about to open my mouth to confess my lie when a head pokes up and says, “Mama, can we go to Sonic?”

Immediately, Marina says, “Sit back down, Angelica,” and pushes her daughter’s shoulder. “And put your seatbelt on! We absolutely will not go to Sonic until all of you learn car safety!”

The car gets even louder in an eruption of complaints and whines, most of them directed to Angelica, but I catch a few begging, “Please, Mama, please,” before Marina claps her hands together and the car falls silent.

“Absolutely not, chicas,” she says. “We have a guest in the car and I will not tolerate this behavior from you. Silence.”

It’s like magic. The five daughters fall silent for the rest of the car ride. The first few minutes are tense, the air in the van bubbling with resentment, but after some time I feel it fade away. I dare a glance into the back seats and see four dark heads bent over phones and coloring books. Only one person isn’t reading, and Lizbeth gives me a grin when she catches my eye.

We’ll talk later, she mouths to me, and in that second it’s like the two of us are co-conspirators, friends since childhood.

I like the feeling, and grin back, nodding.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

Japan, it's under my skin forever

I don't think I'll ever get over Japan. I'm not sure the day will come that I can think about that trip without a jolt of joy, a pang of hurt; joy that it happened, that I lived it, and hurt that it's over, that it's done, a memory, no longer my present.

I will never stop loving the country that embraced me when I needed a hug the most. I will never forget the people who became home when I was far from one. I will never get over the awe of seeing Tokyo from above, vast and blue and stretching, stretching, stretching onto infinity. I will never be able to distance that awe from the depression that swung in hours later, choking me.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Japan will forever be linked as good and bad in my mind. Because I wrote about finding peace and I meant every last word. I had a breakthrough in Japan, in the strangest of circumstances.

But in nearly the same breath, I wrote:

I am depressed in New York City, when I sling pizzas with a cheery smile and a hearty laugh. I am depressed when I wander the streets at night, crying into my phone and contemplating leaving my fate to chance and Central Park after dark.
I am depressed in Nikko City, when I clap hands with the children and sing to peppy music. I am depressed when I curl up in my retreat center bed and wonder why I thought I had anything to offer.
I am depressed in Trieste, when I walk seven miles to my favorite castle with my best friend, laughing and only pretend groaning. I am depressed when I write poems called "I hate myself" and swear I should have died before breathing.
I am depressed in Brooklyn, when I sit on my couch with my roommates and giggle and share secrets. I am depressed when I dig my nails into my flesh and rip so blood will flow.
I am depressed in South Carolina, when I meet up with my cousins and play golf and read. I am depressed when I pitch a fit and scream myself hoarse.
I am depressed in Marzell, when she tells me I'm a bully and remind her of Hitler and I think I wish I could freeze to death. I am depressed when I collapse on the couch and wrap my arms around my sisters and laugh until I cannot breathe.
I am depressed in Tokyo, when I eat sushi and grimace because the wasabi clears my sinuses and it's pleasant in its pain. I am depressed when I break from the group and walk, crying, down the alleys.
I am depressed in Europe, America, Asia. I am depressed when I'm happy and when I'm sad. I am depressed here, there, yesterday, now, tomorrow. I am depressed awake or asleep, with a laugh or a smile, with a blade or a fingernail.
I am, simply, depressed.

Japan is a kaleidoscope (hah, get it?) of emotions for me, a swirling, colorful, bountiful mess of happiness and sorrow that are forever intertwined. It makes sense — all the sense in the world — that I wrote those two pieces in the span of a few days.

Because that's the thing, is that my joy and my depression, they are neighbors, they are sisters, they are forever linked. The one does not take away from the other.

Just because I am depressed does not mean I am not joyful.

I've maybe always known that, but it was Jessi who truly made it real for me. See, I was sitting on some steps in some kind of shopping district in Tokyo, sobbing. Hyperventilate-sobbing. And when my teammates asked what was wrong, I said, "It's OK."

Not because was OK (I wasn't) but because I wanted them to know they didn't have to ask. It was OK if they didn't want to know. My depression is a heavy burden, and not everyone can help me bear it. I've learned that the hard way — by losing friends because of it. And I didn't want to lose these friends, this family, this home.

And what did they do?

IMG_2121

They insisted. They demanded. They said it was OK — for me to burden them. So I did. I confessed that I was speechlessly depressed. That I was having suicidal thoughts — and here I digress for a second to say, suicidal thoughts are far different from suicidal ideation; one is uncontrollable, the wish for death. The other is active, the plan for death. Digression ended — and couldn't handle it. Couldn't handle it. Couldn't handle it.

They gathered, they prayed, they squeezed my shoulder and put their arms around me and Jessi (bless her), she thanked God for my joy.

And I realized again that the two, they live together. I am full of joy, full of life, full of love; I am depressed.

The two interact. The two compete. Most days, the joy wins — that's why I'm here.

And it won in Japan. In the end, joy won.

I don't have words that go deep enough to tell you how much I loved Japan. How much I lived Japan.

Leaving Japan — it broke my heart. Being back in New York...I've struggled, these past few days. Because every once in a while I'd wake up and realize it was over. I was no longer on foreign soil, opposite-the-world from home. I wasn't breathing different air, ingesting new oxygen, touching something other and beautiful and incredible and amazing. I wasn't with my team anymore, and that was so hard to handle.

IMG_2268

And last night — I drank some wine and left a party early. I danced to "Boom Boom Pow" as I walked through Manhattan; and when I say danced, I mean danced. I saw Bryant Park at night and sprinted across the street, flung my hands into the air and breathed in my city's air.

And I was so grateful to be home.

Those two can go together, too: missing Japan and loving New York. They're not irreconcilable, just...different.

Japan is under my skin. I love it forever. There are so many words in my heart to share with you about this trip — I can't wait to talk about the reawakening of my love (nay, need) for travel; about the struggles of coming home no matter how often you do it; about finding home amongst people I didn't know; about that, and so much more.

I'll never get over Japan. Thank God for that.

 

A good-bye to break my heart

This past week in Japan was undeniably good, but also undeniably hard. There were so many rocky moments, from my crippling insecurities about whether or not I'm actually helpful to the kids, the families, and my team; to the depression that choked me - that's choking me now - that ripped my brain to shreds; to the tiredness of traveling plus jetlag plus a foreign land plus kids for 12 hours a day. It was so good and also so hard.

And one of the reasons it was good is one of the reasons it was hard. I got so attached to those kids! To the little girl who spells her name like it sounds - SP, literally. There were a brother and sister who were so precious - sweet and polite, always willing to sacrifice for someone else, never asking for themselves - and I wanted to bundle them up in love. I adored the family of four siblings, mostly blond, who were helpful and sassy from the oldest to the youngest.

The kids I spent time with in Nikko absolutely stole my heart.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetAnd then I had to say goodbye.

And oh, the hardest kind of goodbye: the one with little to no hope of being resolved anytime soon. The kind that's permanent, that you know will stain your heart for weeks, months, possibly ever, and will soon fade for them. That's what made these goodbyes so hard for me. I've been those kids, the ones who are 4, 5, 10, who capture the hearts of the adults who traveled to love on them. I've been the kid who loved them too, but whose mind is so young, getting so full, so distracted, that within a blink they were gone.

And so I know - this goodbye is permanent. The chances that I'll return to Japan are slim. The chances of seeing any of them again before they forget me, even slimmer. And those two facts break my heart.

But do I regret coming?

100%, not even a little.

This trip was just ... it was a struggle. I'm bad with kids. I'm bad with adults. I'm bad at a lot, and great at very little. And I'm riddled with insecurities, oppressed by depression, sometimes wishing I could just die. I literally walked through Tokyo at one point and cried because I was so depressed I started having suicidal thoughts again. So yeah, this trip was hard. I often say that when I'm having victories, depression and the devil combine and strike ever harder. That was definitely true on this trip.

But this trip was amazing. There was this moment where I felt God's peace more truly than I have in a long time. There was a real sense of home that I experienced, not just with the place but with the people. I felt like I truly connected with my teammates and the adults I worked with.

And when I'm being honest and logical, I think I can say I connected with the kids as well. We loved each other and yeah, working with kids is hard and I second-guess everything, but I truly believe I did alright.

And then...good-byes. The children's good-byes were so hard.

IMG_1965And in less than 24 hours, I'm going to have to say good-bye to my team. And that's going to be equally hard. These are people I traveled with, experienced a new culture with, struggled with and laughed so wholeheartedly with. I experienced the depths of sorrow in front of them, but traveled to the heights of joy as well. That's a bonding experience — and so was the communal hot spring (nudity required) that we had to shower in.

I love these guys, and I don't want to say good-bye because I'm scared.

I'm so scared that I won't see them again, that this friendship will just...fade. Cause I've been on teams like this before, where you grow so close, and you swear you'll stay this way forever. But the truth is sometimes this closeness is meant for only a moment.

And that shatters my heart to smithereens. Cause I don't want to say good-bye.

Not again.

 


 

But I will.

And I'll hope and pray that by some miracle it won't be as permanent as I'm anticipating. That I'll see my kids again, stay connected with my team, go on more and more Kaleidoscope trips and love the world radically.

That's the dream.

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Finding peace with "Oceans" in Japan

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetEarly in the morning, Japan-time, I sat in a cozy lounge with some people I met barely 36 hours earlier, and found peace. These people, they don’t know my history, not all of it; they barely know my present, they hardly know the person I am, much less what I was, much less all that has come before.

And yet it was with these people, these pseudo-strangers, that I was washed with the peace and grace of God.

These past few weeks — oh, these weeks, I’ve been so lost. I’ve wandered in the dark through a cold forest, noises on every side, danger near and breathing down my neck.

I have been the farthest from safe, from comfort. From peace. I have floundered. Like a kid who learned to swim in a pool, thrown into the ocean for the first time. Yes, he still knows how to swim; but this environment is different, vast, terrifying, and so he splashes and kicks and screams and swallows water and chokes and cries and flounders. That was me.

Shrieking, crying, tearing at my hair — or worse, my skin — sobbing in the dark, desperate for someone to save me.

It didn’t even have to be God, is the thing. I didn’t care who came to save me, as long as someone did. It could have been God; it could have been a best friend, a coworker, a dangerous boy on a bike…who cares? If he’s willing to pull me out of the woods, I will take him, danger be damned.

And so.

Alone, lost, terrified, I boarded a plane to spend a week in Japan, ministering to children. I mean, what was I even thinking? I can barely take care of myself, much less help anyone else! What arrogance, to believe I could add to these kids’ lives when my own is such a shipwreck.

And yet. I digress.

I sat on a couch in a lounge in Japan, and without the help of instruments or a band or any outside paraphernalia, we worshipped.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders… 

The tears began slowly at first, a thought in the back of my mind: I might cry. My trust has so many borders, but oh how I long for them to disintegrate.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters… 

That’s where I am, now, for the past months, for the past years: deepest waters. Floundering. Drowning. Sometimes treading water, sometimes floating, most often sinking.

And keep my eyes above the waters… 

I see nothing. I see waves and nothing but waves. I try to keep my head up but I can’t, I’m alone and I’m sinking and I’m drowning.

The great unknown where feet may fail… 

I am failing. And yet. In this moment, this worshipping moment in a foreign country with people who don’t know me…in this moment my eyes surface above the waves, I can breathe, I feel whole, I feel at home.

When oceans rise / My soul will rest in your embrace. 

Here. The embrace is here. Home is here. I belong. I am not lost.

*
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I've been in Japan for a little over 24 hours. I've been on two long walks through the countryside, where I marveled at how beautiful the landscape is. I tie-dyed a T-shirt, ate unfamiliar and delicious food, experienced God's peace and simply...lived. I've met people I didn't know, made friends, prepared for an intense weekend ahead.

And I look forward to what is to come. I definitely cried this morning, but it was a cleansing cry, a good kind. I thought for a second I'd been healed of my depression, because that's something I'm always looking out for.

I'm not sure that's the case, but I do know God found me here. He saw me, he showed me His love, and here I am. At peace. At least for now.

Writing hope: Beth Revis — GIVEAWAY INCLUDED

Last fall, a book about mental illness made me realize I — even I — held stigmas against mentally ill people. That book was A World Without You, by Beth Revis, and her unflinching and real portrayal of a boy with delusions that had far-reaching consequences captivated me. I still think about it sometimes, the way that book snagged my heart and made me feel all the feels. Beth is also the author of the fantasy series Across the Universewhich involves space travel and being woken up out of time and all sorts of fun stuff like that. She's an accomplished writer, and you'll definitely want to look out for her next book — Rebel Risingaka a young adult novel about Jyn Erso, the star of Rogue One — which comes out May 2 and is for sure on the top of my TBR list.

Informal-Portrait

She grew up in rural North Carolina, daughter to a New Jersey Yankee who tried to keep the Southern accent away...but Beth says, "I still pronounce my 'i's long and cannot say 'can't' correctly." Nature vs. nurture, I guess.

As a kid, Beth was more Hermione Granger than anything else — she recalls taking money from her savings pile to buy books and hiding under the bed in order to fit in more reading time.

Her long, long hair is a tribute to Princess Leia because Beth has always been a Star Wars fangirl, so the fact that she's writing and publishing a YA novel that's part of the franchise's canon is huge. She said, "Every moment of working on that book was surreal and amazing."

And why is she drawn to young adult as a genre? you may ask.

"YA has everything," she answers. "You have books about space beside books about Queen Victoria. Tragedy beside comedy, and many with both tragedy and comedy. It's infinite possibilities."

She adds that the most important thing to show in these novels for younger readers is reality; "Even in books with magic or spaceships," she says. "There's a heart that's real."

And one aspect of reality is that there is darkness. Beth referenced the famous G.K. Chesterton quote about fairy tales existing not to teach children that dragons are real, but to show them they can be vanquished, and added, "The books aren't about darkness. They're about the light in the darkness. They're about hope."

Hope in books is important because "it reminds us that there is still hope in real life."

She adds that recommendations for these sorts of hopeful books vary depending on who's doing the reading and in what situation they're looking for hope.

"The Handmaid's Tale, for example, is not that hopeful of a book," she said, "but if you happen to be a society where--and this is a totally random example--but if you're in a society where a fascist, ill-informed, orange-toned misogynist is in control of your dwindling democracy, reading Margaret Atwood's book and thinking of the phrase 'Illegitimi non carborundum' may be just the hope you need to keep fighting." [I love it when authors are politically aware and funny, in addition to being great writers, you know?]

Beth's books chronicle hope; A World Without You, for example, gives hope that reality can be OK, even if it's not as great as the fantasy.

AWWY-2An interesting factoid about that book is that it wasn't originally meant to be a contemporary novel; Beth said she began writing it as a straight-up time-travel story.

"It wasn't until I'd almost finished that the reality started leaking through the pages--not unlike in my own main character's life," she said. "[That] reality was more along the lines of my real life peeking into the story, not the other way around. When I described the emotions, for example, that Phoebe has, they were the same emotions that I had when I was her age."

And the hardest thing about writing?

A World Without You, Beth says.

"All of it. It was simultaneously a complicated work involving time travel and mental illness, but also a personal work that drained me emotionally as its inspiration was rooted in my own past and my brother's struggle with mental illness."

Personally, I'm grateful to Beth for doing the hard work of writing this book; it taught me a lot. It's one you should definitely read if you can.

And make sure to follow Beth. Rebel Rising is bound not to be the last exciting work she produces, and you'll want to see what comes out next. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook, check out her website and sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date on everything!

AND, if you'd like the chance to win a SIGNED hardcover of "A World Without You," aka the book that moved me and stung my conscience, enter the giveaway below (just follow the link)! Trust me — you want this book! (US only, though).

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"The Boy Section"

Matteo

I like the world where I love a golden boy who plays guitar and worships in church, who smiles shyly from across the room, who I could never date because he wouldn’t presume to assume the right to date me and I would never admit to deserve him.

His awkward, fumbling encounters, the push-and-pull of “do I kiss him or wait for him to make the move,” while he twists his fingers and says he’s glad to see me. I like the way both his languages are softened by the unsure accent.

Andrew

I remember the world where I loved the boy who looked like an A-list actor, whose grin traced ripples across the beat of my heart. I feel the thick moisture-air pervade the gym, where I follow every step with my eyes, while the handsome boy— who doesn’t know my name—chases jerseys and basketballs across the court.

His face peeks around corners in my mind, corners of the dustiest, boxed-up memories and six years distant, my heart skips; in my dreams he appears in front of me, to clasp my hands and race away to a world where we make sense together.

James

I live in a world where I love a dark boy who swears in every breath and smokes plants and mocks and breaks through walls— everyone’s walls—and my friends say I’m too good but I wonder why I’m not good (enough) for the pretty dark boy I love.

He passes me in the cafeteria and touches my shoulder, an insistent-soft request and my mind careens around sharp corners, past road signs that scream “he loves you!” and others that spit “you will never be enough.” Every word he speaks is confident and bolsters my flagging soul.

"The Boy Section," a poem by Karis Rogerson. Probably about you ;)

Kendare Blake, story channeler extraordinaire

Kendare Blake, author of ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and THREE DARK CROWNS, among other titles, told me the most rewarding thing about writing is just that: writing. Literally, physically writing and feeling a story flow through you. Of course, she also said the hardest part of writing is the middle of the first draft, when it feels like you're lost in a writing sea, so perhaps it's safe to say the relationship of writer to writing is more love-hate than love-love.

"In the middle of a first draft you'll find me bereft on the floor, with a plate of pasta on my belly and my head resting atop a pizza box," Kendare said. "I'm tired by then, and the end's nowhere in sight."

So why does she persist through the first-draft doldrums?

"I find the act of writing to be supremely rewarding," she explained. "That story channeling through you, and it doesn't feel like creating, or making it up so much as finding it. Discovering it. It's the biggest rush, when it's going well."

She added to this idea of writing as discovery, saying one of her greatest writerly challenges is "serving the story rather than my perceived expectations of the story. I try not to get in the book's way, for the most part."

According to her childhood friend Susan Murray, Kendare has been a talented writer since middle and high school.

"In school, everyone in our grade appreciated being in her English or speech class because the girl knew how to write like none of us did," Susan said. "It seemed effortless...her work stood out to us all."

Susan, whom Kendare called her "resident serial killer expert," added that Kendare's writing stands out to readers at large because of her unique ability to engage the audience.

"Whenever I go to events where she is one of the many authors, when it is all over, the audience is talking about her," Susan said. "She is/was memorable. Even if she doesn’t mention her books themselves...when she is done, we all want to read her books because she engaged us and we want to continue to be engaged by her."

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Kendare was born in South Korea and adopted by American parents who raised her on a hobby farm in central Minnesota.

"Two dogs, many cats, three misbehaving horses," she described. "I shoveled a lot of doody, is what I'm saying."

In addition to farm chores, Kendare spent a lot of time reading, or being read to by her mother. The public library was a very important resource for the family, offering free books, and Kendare learned to read when she was still four. She said she imagines that her love of writing came as a direct result of her reading.

"Developing early reading confidence is key," she said. "And if you read enough, maybe it stimulates that writing part of the creative process. I just know I always had stories."

She said she writes because she has to, in a way. Not simply because it's how she gets paid, but because it's a soul-necessity.

"If I go too long without working I get very irritable," she said. "And the things I write won't let me rest until I get them down on paper."

Books are a sort of magic, to Kendare, and reading them leads to writing them.

"I don't remember a time without them, or anything else at that age that gave me the same safe feeling of wonder," she said. "They were and are a thing of comfort so why wouldn't I want to surround myself in them? Make my life in them?"

So as much as she believes in writing, Kendare also believes in reading.

"Reading helps everybody," she said. "Read when you're young and read for the rest of your life and your soul will be so much more colorful when it's over. I never want to sound like I look down on people who don't read. I just sincerely believe their lives would be more interesting if they did. And it's never too late to start."

She gave a few suggestions on good books to read if you're not a huge reader; for instance, she named "Jane Eyre" as the most accessible of the classics, or suggested that someone who loves horses read something to speak to that love.

kendare-blake-cat-stole

"I also suggest reading a book that makes you feel smart," she added. "Philosophy, maybe. Or something historical. For those first reads it might be less about the book than about how the act of reading makes you feel. And feeling smart is a pretty good feeling."

Speaking of smart — according to Dylan Zoerb, Kendare's husband, she herself is smart as can be. When asked what makes her stand out among others, that was one thing he emphasized.

"Everyone always asks me how I married someone so smart," Dylan said. "I'd like to argue, but it's a valid question. She seems to know a lot about a lot, and what she doesn't know she learns."

Dylan added that her writing stands out because "she does great work making her characters have their own voices and sense of humor. Her books can be dark and full of horror, and then she'll drop in a joke."

Kendare is releasing ONE DARK THRONE, the sequel to THREE DARK CROWNS, later this year. (This is the part in the profile where I say, "GO BUY THE BOOK" because it's so good and so worth it and you can do that here or also here.) She said one of her favorite things about the writing process for this series was simply inhabiting the world of Fennbirn, one she created from scratch.

"I like learning about it as I go," she said. "For instance, I just mocked up a timeline of queens for the last thousand years, and it revealed so many interesting historical tidbits...Construction on the Volroy castle fortress was completed during [The Mad Oracle Queen's] reign so they could lock her inside it for her last ten years. I never knew that."

Spoken like a true channeler of stories, one who is discovering all the intricacies as she works. It's the best way to write.

If you'd like to follow Kendare on her writing journey (which you should), you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter or even her website. And "like" the Facebook page for the THREE DARK CROWNS series for all sorts of fun updates.

 

 

 

I will always fight for journalism

After 23 years of making pronouncements and then changing my mind, I know a little better than to say, "I'll never be a journalist." Because I also said, "I'll never not be a journalist," and, well, my pizza-slinging uniform begs to differ on that count. 10405327_10152565449759884_2885326472995272677_n

However, as things stand right now, it looks like journalism isn't my calling. For personal reasons — like my intense need to be loved, my desire to just write building-up pieces and my severe depression — and professional ones — like the fact that I'm actually not the greatest at in-depth reporting and would rather write positive stories anyway — I'm not sure I could be a good journalist.

Or at least, not the journalist I'd want to be; see, I'd want to be an investigative or political reporter, someone who is a watchdog for government and holds powerful people accountable.

But I'm not great at that. So I'm moving on to exploring other communication fields, like running social media or doing PR or just writing novels and slinging pizza on the side.

That doesn't mean that I don't think journalism is one of the most important things for the world right now. And it doesn't mean I won't fight, tooth, nail and foot-to-the-groin for freedom of the press and for journalistic respect.

In today's New York Times, Helene Cooper wrote this sentence in her front-page article:

What appeared to rattle people the most about Mr. Trump’s news conference on Thursday were his attacks on members of the news media assembled before him. Several diplomats said they worried that Mr. Trump was trying to discredit a tenet of American democracy — a free press — and in so doing, might embolden despots around the world into further challenges to freedom of the press.

"Trump Aides Try to Reassure Europe, but Many Are Wary"

That's telling. It means it's not just reporters (or j-school sort-of students) who believe in the importance of the press; literal world leaders are terrified because they've seen what happens to democracies when the press is muzzled.

There's a reason the First Amendment was the first to be amended, you know? Because it's so vitally important.

I may sound like I'm writing a j-school application essay (which I wrote so many of, you guys...so many) when I say that a free press is fundamental — fundamental, people — to a free country.

It is vital that we have a body of people dedicated to overseeing government's actions. Just this week we had a beautiful example of what happens when the press does its job. Michael Flynn literally resigned because The Washington Post made it clear that he was lying and it was being covered up, and President T. was no longer able to keep lying.

The work the Post did was absolutely essential. Importantly, it was done in service of the American public — a.k.a., not the work of the "enemy" of the American people, as President T. tried to say the press was.

You know who thinks the press is the enemy? People who have something to hide. You know who can't be trusted? People who have something to hide.

So yes, I might not be a journalist myself in the future. But my years as a student journalist and my most-of-a master's degree in the field have done nothing but reinforce in my mind the idea that this is a very important field; a necessary career; a calling for many.

And I'm standing here to say: I support the press. I'll do everything in my power to make sure it stays free and accessible. Yesterday, that meant financially supporting the New York Times.

That link takes you to a donation page that's a nice, double-edged sword: gives money to the newspaper and provides a young'un with a subscription, so they can stay informed and we can raise up a new generation to value and respect the press.

Most days I can't give money; so I tweet links and spread the news. I follow journalists and know their names because they deserve that small ounce of respect. And I won't stand by silently if President T. tries to do anything — anything — to diminish the freedom of the press.

Because it's so doggone important, guys.

Some days, we are weak

  It was [mostly] fine. I've been depressed all week, but today was going pretty well.

And then, I couldn't start my novel.

I feel completely paralyzed and terrified. Because I'm so excited for this novel but what if...what if it's not good? What if I can't get the words to come out? What if I'm bad at this whole writing thing and should just give it up.

I know that as soon as I get into the swing of writing, I'll be excited again and the momentum will bear me forward and I'll spend my pizza shifts biting my nails and thinking about storylines and how to weave them; about characters and what they're going to show me next; about setting and descriptions and how best to dance with the words.

But right now I'm frozen by indecision and fear. How do I start that first sentence? What if I start it wrong and the whole thing collapses, trying to rest on the weight of an incompetent sentence?

Ah, the insecurity. It haunts me in everything I do, but the worst is when it haunts my writing. Because that's one thing I've been sure of for almost my whole life.

When I was in elementary school, I started telling people I was gonna be a writer when I grew up. I was confident in my writing, and have been for most of my life. It's one of the few things I'm not insecure about.

My looks? My positive feelings for them balance on a hair, and I can swing in a day from thinking I'm beautiful to the conviction that I'm the ugliest being ever made.

My smarts? Some days I feel witty, clever, intelligent, and then I'm swamped by how dumb and worthless I am.

My customer service skills? I go from patting myself on the back for being friendly and charming to hitting my head on the wall because I'm rude and awkward.

Everything, anything about me? I have a love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship with myself.

Except for my writing.

Except for today, when I'm starting something new and the desire to be perfect is a weight I cannot bear, a burden I can no longer carry.

I want — need — to be the best in all things. I have this idea in my mind that somehow I'm starting at a disadvantage, that there are points against me. I talk a lot with my counselor about this feeling of inadequacy, this impostor syndrome, as though I stole the chance at life from another potential human way back when I was nothing but a sperm trying to fertilize an egg. And maybe that's why I try so hard to be the best; maybe that's why, when I'm not the best, I am so hard on myself. Maybe that's why my default reaction and punishment is death to myself. Because I don't believe I deserve life.

Sometimes when I'm talking to people, they think I'm a perfectionist and I desire to be the best because of pride. And it is that, to an extent.

But it's also because I'm searching high and low for a reason for my existence.

And today, I can't find it. I want to write this book, oh, how I want to write this book. I'm ready. I'm ready, my gosh have I been ready to be a writer since the first time I realized books could still be written.

And yet. And yet here I am, wondering if I deserve to breathe.

Oh, guys. This depression is so hard some days. Some days I just cry for no reason, I feel like there's a boulder on my back just pushing me into the ground. Some days I feel like my insides are being scooped out by an ice cream scoop, like they're cracking wide and spilling like a fault line in an earthquake. I feel shaken, vulnerable, desperate, afraid, weak.

Some days I'm fine with being depressed. Some days I feel like a conqueror, like a warrior, like someone who can bring hope to someone else and overcome even the darkest and slipperiest shadows.

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And some days I'm just tired. So bone-tired.

 

Today I'm tired. But I don't have the luxury of giving in anymore. I have responsibilities and friends and loved ones, and for that — for the pizzeria that needs me, for the friends who for God knows what reason seem to love me, for the people I love and don't want to miss out on, I'll get up and I'll work and I'll go forth.

And I guess I'll write my novel, and I'll hope that when I wake up tomorrow I feel victorious again. One can only dream, I suppose.

 

A thank you to my pizza regulars

img_6347I can't call you by name, because I don't know (most of) your names. And to the ones whose names I do know (looking at you, S.) I'm not sure I'm allowed to share it ;) I don't know your life story; I don't know where you work or what struggles you've overcome or what your day-to-day looks like.

I know very little about you, except for this: you brighten my day.

In the midst of slinging pizza and trying to coordinate things so that the kitchen stays happy and cooking, the waitress is stocked with everything she needs for the restaurant and my fellow counter staffers are busy and smiling, I can easily succumb to stress.

Enter one person who yells at me because I won't let them use the bathroom, or spits on my counter because I won't take their fake $20, or swears vengeance via Yelp because I've run out of tables, and my day could easily crumble.

And then there's you; my superhero without a cape, my knight in shining regular clothing.  You swoop in and smile and your familiar face (and order) just smoothes away all the stress and pain and hair-pulling-out-ness that comes with customer service. Suddenly, everything is fine again, because you're here.

And for 10 seconds to a few minutes, I can have a friendly conversation with a familiar face, someone who doesn't know me but seems to care.

I love you, friendly man who defends me and my store to the woman trying everything in her power to get a free slice.

I love you, Columbia student with the great accent who tells me it's OK to take time off from school.

I love you, signora who always gets the same slices and lets me practice my Italian.

I love you, D.O.C. and glass of rose buyer who helps me smoothly transition into my shift by standing at the counter and raving about the pizza.

I love you, everyone who comes in and understands. Understands that I am human and therefore prone to failure; understands that life is hectic and rules are rules; understands that sometimes all it takes is a smile to brighten a day.

If just one of  you enters my store during a hectic shift, it's the difference between ending the day a knot of nerves or feeling like I've just gotten a deep-tissue massage.

This is my love note to you; I'll come right out and say it: I love you. You're my favorite. You make my life a spot more joyous.

I love my job on every day, as I've mentioned. It's a blessing, straight from God, and I adore the people I work with, I adore the busyness, I adore the responsibility that's so removed from everything I do as a writer. I just...I love my job. My pizzeria is my home.

You guys — you're like my family away from family. You rock.

Here's a picture of pizza to make you happy.

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COVER REVEAL: "Dream Eater" by K. Bird Lincoln

We all know the werewolves and the vampires and all the fairy tale-fantasy of the Western world; those of us who are fans of Teen Wolf or writers like Kii Johnson know the kitsune; few, if any, of us are familiar with lesser-known Eastern myths, like the Japanese myth of the dream-eating baku. That's why K. Bird Lincoln, whose life has been greatly impacted by Japanese language, food and culture thanks in part to her Japanese studies major, Japanese husband and six years living there, decided to tackle these under-the-radar mythical beings in her new book, Dream Eater.

And that's why I, today, have the pleasure of hosting my second World Weaver Press cover reveal!

Dream Eater is the beginning of a new urban fantasy series by Lincoln, one where a half-Japanese girl in Portland discovers her own mythical parentage.

Sound intriguing? I thought so, too! The book releases on April 4, 2017 and paperbacks can be pre-ordered here.

You ready for the cover? *Drumroll please...*

dream-eater-front

Cool, right? I'm stoked to read this book.

Now, I also had the opportunity to ask Lincoln a few questions about herself and the book, which was super exciting. She told me that writing this book was the first time she got to experience the non-glamorous side of writing — the endless revising which sometimes borders on nitpicking. But it also gave her the opportunity to research a lot of cool things, from the mythology of Armenia to Japanese mythology.

Like I said, Lincoln married a Japanese man and actually lived in the country for six and a half years, so it's a place and a culture she truly loves. She went ahead and recommended a great historical fantasy if you're also interested in Japan: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoetby David Mitchell, which is "impeccably researched" and about a fascinating time in Japanese history.

kbirdlincolnheadshot

Lincoln grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where she learned Spanish and spent ample time in libraries, owing to her dad's job as a community college librarian.

"I remember sitting behind the reference desk and 'helping' by stamping students’ books at check out and getting lost in between rows of bookshelves," she said. "Kind of your average, dream-writer childhood."

In addition, she is the mother of two "creative, artsy, nerdy teenagers," she said.

As for writing, well, she's been doing that forever. Like many writers, she remembers the first story she wrote — it's about a pony named Brownie in a magical forest. She said it's "totally derivative and clichéd," but what else does a second grader know other than cliches?

"There was never a time that I did not write," Lincoln said. "I more or less have stories or songs running in my mind all the time. It just was natural to try to put them on paper."

Lincoln's good friend, Sarah Lichty, who confessed to being bored easily while reading, said Lincoln, "strikes the right balance of developing full characters with thoughtful insight into their perceptions and motivations, while at the same time keeping my attention with exciting and well developed action sequences."

As a person, Lincoln is thoughtful and attentive to others, Lichty said. "She is genuinely accepting and interested in the very real and diverse stories that surround her in daily life. Her particular fondness for the ridiculous can put anyone at ease," she added.

Lincoln is also the author of another Japanese fantasy series, a gender-bending duology called Tiger LilyShe encourages everyone to drink lavender lattes, and hints that you can get a free short story if you get her newsletter, which you can sign up for here. Be sure to also follow her on Facebook and don't forget to get Dream Eater on or before April 4, 2017!

Humanity at stake: the refugee crisis

These are people on this wall. Men, women and children the same as you and I. They were born in a home in a city that was alive and vibrant. They had hopes and dreams — to be a doctor, a philosopher, a writer. To change the world, to make a name for themselves and leave a mark.

Read More

On depression: a prose poem

  Mental Illness

It coils itself to strike without so much as a warning rattle, fangs dripping with poison and ready to dart into flesh, retract, leave its venom to do the dirty work.

It sneaks up on you in the dark or in the light, a shadowless creature because it's made of darkness, sucking the light out of life. It doesn't make its presence known until it's too late, too hard to turn and run.

It sinks its claws into your soul and won't retract, and the only way to be free is to rip, rip, rip until a part of you is gone, forever in its clutches.

It is invincible, the king of the night, the harbinger of doom, the thing that stalks your thoughts and learns your patterns and serial kills its way through whole communities.

It sees you when you're sleeping...it knows if you've been good or bad...and then it tells you you've been bad, so bad, the very worst, and it's time to punish yourself.

It convinces you that the blade or the pills or the sex or the smoke will finally make you happy again, will wash you clean of all your wrongdoings, but once it's over all you feel is dirty in your soul.

It appears when you least expect it, sneaking from your mind and winding its way through your body, until you're racked with pain and sore and tired and numb and every thought is just...I can't.

It lies.

It finds your weakness and exploits it, but your weakness will not be your undoing.

My weakness cannot be my undoing.

I fill find a way. When it coils to strike, I will cut off its head. When it sneaks up, bringing darkness, I will shine a light brighter. When it tries to rip off my soul I will performs feats of magic to unhook it and remain intact.

I will not listen to the lies, the ones that overcome me, the ones that hiss, You should die, you should die, you should die.

It made me think death was my idea, my desire, the only way to save myself and others. It made me think the world would spin happier, spin brighter, if my breath were stilled. It made me think, just yesterday it made me think, that if my veins bled themselves dry then maybe I would be redeemed for my mistakes.

It made me think the only way to atone for sin is with my own blood. It made me think everyone's unhappiness stems from my existence.

I will not, I can not let it have its way with me.

My soul is weary, my heart sick, and all I want is to curl up and cry until I can be better. All I want is to eradicate myself and maybe let something new be born in my place.

I am weak. The world itself has sharp claws and they drag across my flesh, and when the blood runs it convinces me that is my fate.

But I will not let my weakness be my end.

I will gather what strength I have. I will fight. Till my dying breath, I will rage against the beast that seeks to best me. I will not go silently. I will not go at all.

My death will not be caused by my own hand. It cannot be. It will not be.

It coils to strike. I raise my blade.

Its head streaks forward. I drop my blade.

And in the end, I stand and it dies.

COVER REVEAL: "Solomon's Bell" by Michelle Lowery Combs, lover of YA

If you've ever wanted to read a book about a strong teenage girl with magical powers who fights off her enemies using her own wits and abilities, well...you need to read Michelle Lowery Combs' Genie Chronicles! Hello, hello, and welcome to Living Life the Write Way's very first COVER REVEAL for World Weaver Press! Today, I'm revealing the cover for Solomon's Bell, the second installment in Michelle's young adult fantasy series, the Genie Chronicles.

According to WWP's website, "Ginn thinks she has problems at home until she magically lands herself in 16th Century Prague."

A bit of backstory: Ginn is a regular teenager until she discovers she's actually a genie. Solomon's Bell picks up where the first book, Heir to the Lamp, left off, and takes Ginn all the way to Prague in the 16th century.

Below, you'll find the cover, revealed today for the first time (and I'm lucky enough to be a blog participating in the reveal!) as well as a profile on Michelle, who, through her responses to my questions, has inspired and amused me greatly. I hope I someday get to meet this woman in person!

Are you ready to see the cover?

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Michelle grew up in a series of small towns in central Alabama, bouncing about after her parents' divorce from each other and subsequent splits from various other partners. One such home was close to a public library, and the family's financial situation made it such that buying books was impractical, so they walked to the library to borrow them.

"My mother read aloud to my sister and me: The Boxcar Children, The House at Pooh Corner, a children’s illustrated Bible. We loved each of the stories, and experiencing them made me an avid reader," Michelle said.

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As happens so often with writers, the love of reading and stories bled easily into a love of writing and telling stories. Michelle's first experience was with writing fanfiction of Jim Henson's Muppet story, Pigs in Space.

"I was intrigued by the idea of characters that I loved so much in an unexpected setting. If Miss Piggy could be a space traveler, anything seemed possible," Michelle said. "I wrote about it at length—phonetically, I should add, because I used words I had no idea how to spell as a second grader."

For a few years in middle school, she graduated to writing and reading publicly, but says those experiences were awkward and uncomfortable. "Teenage me then retreated from writing for any kind of notoriety," she said. "I was more awkward than talented, and I knew it."

So it wasn't until 2012, when she was trying to place her first novel, that Michelle again entered the world of writing for the public. She won a national contest (!!), First Place for Best First Chapter of a Novel, had the piece published in a literary magazine, and that helped lead to the publication of the Genie Chronicles.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetThe second book in the series, Solomon's Bell, is the result of research Michelle completed for the first one, Heir to the Lamp.

She hit on the idea of genies because she was exploring the concept of otherness through the supernatural, and, finding an under-representation of genies in YA literature, created Ginn, a teenage genie.

A rabbit hole of research stemming from grimoires (ancient books of magic) and meandering through the Italian Renaissance and King Solomon's ancient temple led her, eventually, to a synagogue in Prague.

"I decided, pretty early on while writing Heir to the Lamp, that my second book would introduce a new, more ancient and possibly more dangerous adversary for Ginn..." Michelle said, "and that this adversary would take them on an adventure to 16th Century Prague."

In her pursuit of setting a novel in Prague, Michelle had to again embark on that quest that can set a writer to pulling out their hair: research. However, she now has a wealth of knowledge about the capital of the Czech Republic.

"I can tell you the kinds of trees that grew in Prague’s public spaces in the 16th century: poplars;" she said. "The number of steps leading up to Prague Castle: 247; and just about anything you’d ever care to know about the Orloj, Prague’s astronomical clock tower."

She described the process of writing Solomon's Bell as very fun, and the thing she loves the most about her book is her main character's perseverance.

"She isn’t a damsel in distress by any means, and while she is smart enough to utilize the talents of the young men (and djinni) in her life, it’s ultimately her that works through solving her own predicaments," Michelle said.

Michelle's aunt (and a youth librarian), Gwen Rollins, says that Solomon's Bell will appeal to readers of all ages, and attributes this to Michelle's skill as a writer as well as the intriguing nature of the story itself.

In addition, she said, "The characters are lively, well-developed personalities who, while colorful, are unquestionably believable. Young readers are bound to find the characters relatable since they are, for the most part, ordinary kids in anything-but-ordinary circumstances."

Mary Furlow, a friend of Michelle's through a local writing group in Alabama, said, "[Michelle] blends her easygoing humor with a heartfelt style that is very appealing to readers. I think people can easily identify with her."

Gwen, who says she has known Michelle "since her red-faced, clinch-fisted, and very vocal debut onto life’s stage," added that her niece is a special person as well as a talented writer. "She has the ability to spark excitement in others no matter the topic, and brings an energy to bear that is irresistible."

Michelle described her childhood as one of upheaval — her parents divorced and remarried a combined total of nine times, which, incidentally, is the number of schools she attended before reaching seventh grade.

Nonetheless, despite commotion in her early life, Michelle has overcome obstacles in pursuit of writing and storytelling.

She landed upon YA as a genre because she ran out of books for young readers at her local library and wanted to add to the list of books available for youth. She had an 11-year-old daughter at the time, one who put much emphasis on her approaching 13th birthday as a day when things would magically change, and that is why Ginn, protagonist of the Genie Chronicles, is 13 when her life changes.

Turns out, I could have wished for the moon for my birthday and it would have fallen from the sky into my back yard. Oblivious to my awesome moon-falling-from-the-sky potential...

— Excerpt from Heir to the Lamp, by Michelle Lowery Combs, published by World Weaver Press

And because writing a book can change a life, I had to ask Michelle how the Genie Chronicles have positively affected her life. She cited the embrace of sci-fi/fantasy communities in the South, and the renewal of her own fan-girl persona, as positive changes.

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"I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting some of the most friendly and inclusive people in the whole world at some truly fantastic [conventions]," she said. "I’ve begun to entertain the notion of participating as a cosplayer at some events in 2017. I think I’d make a convincing Professor Sprout from Harry Potter, if I do say so myself."

Michelle's writing can be found on her blog, Through the Wormhole: Confessions of a Book Worm, where you can find stories about her life with five children ranging in age from 21 to nine, as well as the writing process and what books she's loving. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook for more updates.

Solomon's Bell releases March 7, 2017, which means you've got just enough time to order Heir to the Lamp and read it before it comes out!