Farewell

A couple weeks ago, my favorite bookshop announced that they were downsizing and moving to a new location much farther from my house. And while I was more than happy to lead the raiding party that came to take advantage of their clearance sale (twice *coughs*), it wasn’t with pure bliss that I placed this latest batch of acquisitions in yet another of the neat little stacks clustered around my writing desk.

Gulliver’s is going away. I know they’ll still be around in a smaller incarnation across town, but I also know that I won’t go there as often, and the selection won’t be as good. They will no longer have that one corner that is my favorite to wedge myself into while deciding if a microhistory is coming home with me or not. There won’t be that one spot where I always crouch down, scanning B for Butcher or Brooks. They will no longer have my absolute favorite- that one claustrophobic corner where I always have to whisper ‘excuse me’ and scoot myself sideways past some other reader, and then turn and see all those books for my babies spread like a bank of shy dreams, spines out and half hidden.

It won’t be the same.

I’ve known for months that I wanted to do a sentimental blog post about favorite book shops, and the odd feeling of a store stealing a heart (as well as a paycheck), but that was before Gulliver’s announced it was for sale. That was before they downsized and moved. That was before I realized how melancholy that would leave me. You must forgive an old lady her rambling.

As I reached out to other avid readers on the web, I’ve found that my old-lady-ramblings aren’t all that uncommon. I asked my buddies about their favorite books shops and, of the ten responses I got, the shops of only three of them were still around, and one of those was sheepishly admitted to be a chain store. The others had all gone out of business.

I know that the fate of indie bookstores isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, if Google is telling me the truth, the market share of independent book stores is actually on the rise. But my fair city (and my fair state in general) is in an economic slump and, according to the Gulliver’s employee I grilled about it, people just aren’t spending as much money in book shops as they used to, at least not here in Fairbanks. And so I clear out Gulliver’s bookshelves and fill up my own, and wonder with mixed feelings if maybe now I will get through the TBR list faster than I accumulate new titles.

It’s not all bad, I know. Gulliver’s will still be around, although different. And I still have a few other shops around town that I darken the doorways of every now and then. I’ll never run out of books to read. There are places that have far less than this.

But still. I’ll miss that one corner.

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Creative Nonfiction Spotlight

So, I’m out of town right now. By out of town, I mean I’m paddling around in the Prince William Sound of southern Alaska and trying not to get mauled by bears. (Assuming I’m not already dead by now. Am I dead?) As such, there’s a bit of a copout blog up for this week, but it’s something I’ve kind of been wanting to do for a while anyway.

The hands-down coolest bookstore in Fairbanks is a little locally owned shop called Gulliver’s Books. It is super awesome for more reasons than I can innumerate right now. (Maybe more on that later.) One of the many (many hundreds many so many this is why I’m poor many) books I have purchased there is a great short story collection called In Fact: The Best in Creative Nonfiction. Aside from the book being beautiful, just the title was a bit of a revelation for me. Nonfiction and creative can live happily together and make beautiful babies?

Yes. Yes, they can. The book is just lovely on so many levels, and opened me up to a genre that has more or less always existed, but that I had somehow never heard of.

Perhaps you’re not sure what creative nonfiction is. Maybe you’ve heard of it but want to know more. Or maybe you write it and you’re looking for a market to try (although if you’re already in this genre, there’s probably no way you haven’t already heard of this).

Creative Nonfiction (the publication, not the genre) is pretty cool. So in lieu of writing up a thoughtful analysis of something meaningful, I’m just gonna toss a link your way and let you enjoy some true stories, well told.

Happy reading and see you next week (barring bear ingestion, anyway).

The Greg Hill Reading List

Mouseguard

Mouseguard

Hello, internet folk! Welcome to our regularly scheduled tomfoolery!

You may recall that a couple months ago I started teaching a graphic novels class at the elementary school. One of the bazillion things that I did in preparation was to interview local graphic novels guru Greg Hill. Mr Hill is The Guy for graphic novels at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and has given several talks and workshops throughout the state. (In fact, I met up with him through the school librarian, who had gone to one of his classes at the Alaska Library Association’s conference last year.)

In addition to knowing just boatloads about the structure and design of graphic novels, Mr Hill also lays out a pretty gorgeous recommended reading list. Take a gander at the following list, and maybe find a new favorite. (And for anybody interested in the history of comics, designing their own graphic novel, or listening to background baby destroy everything, be sure to catch Mr Hill and I’s full interview [at an hour long! whew!] that I’ll be posting next Monday!)

Happy reading!

Little Nemo in Slumberland

Little Nemo in Slumberland

Greg Hill’s Graphic Novels Recommended Reading List

Marguarite Abouet- Aya

Carl Barks- Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge

Alison Bechdel- The Fun Home

Ernie Bushmiller- Nancy

Will Eisner- A Contract with God; The Spirit

George Harriman- Krazy Kat

Takehiko Inoue- Vagabond

Winsor McCay- Little Nemo in Slumberland

Mori Kaoru- A Bride’s Story

Grant Morrison- anything

David Petersen- Mouseguard

Alex Raymond- early Flash Gordon; Rip Kirby

Gabriel Rodriquez; Eric Shanower- Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland

Art Speigelman- Maus

Chris Ware- Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth

A Bride's Story

A Bride’s Story

Dealing with Depression

Heads up, y’all!  Today, I’ll be discussing my own dealings with depression and how this affects me as a writer and a human.  If you’re not feeling up to reading about depression, including references to self mutilation and suicidal ideation, maybe go check out this cool video about biodiversity instead.  Or, you know, do both! Cheers!

It’s very tempting to start a post like this with statistics and definitions.  I want to talk prevalence and symptoms and stuff like that, because it’s so clinical, so quantifiable.  It’s concrete and factual, about a thing that can so often feel hidden and only quasi-real.

But in the interest of keeping things brief, I’ll skip all that.  I’m not a psychologist, I’m a patient, and I can only write what I know.  Here’s what I know about depression.

I get down sometimes.  I can’t always predict when it’s going to happen, or how bad it’s going to be.  Sometimes it’s just several days of being glum and unfocused and listless.  Sometimes it’s weeks and weeks of hopelessly wishing there was some graceful and acceptable and not-sucky-for-the-people-who-love-me way to just not be alive anymore.  And then eventually I slog my way back out of the tarry hole I’m in and things are better.  Often, things are great, and stay that way for weeks at a time.  But then I peak somewhere and start my decline again.  I go through this cycle maybe four times a year, although I’ve never really counted, but it’s always hardest in winter and easiest in summer.  I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember, well before I moved to Alaska with its pronounced seasonal shifts.  The first time I specifically remember thinking about suicide, I was somewhere around eight years old, and I’ve been fantasizing about it off and on ever since.

Depression reminds me of the time I was still figuring out my intestinal disorder, became severely malnourished, and lost the ability to properly taste food; everything took on a strange metallic taste that just made it that much harder to force myself to eat.  Likewise, depression affects everything, tinting the taste of my every thought, my every reaction, my every emotion.  It takes the bad things and places the blame on me, no matter what.  It takes the good things and tells me I don’t deserve them.  It makes it harder and harder for me to engage healthfully and happily with those around me, because I don’t deserve them and they would be better off without me.

This is especially devastating pertaining to my children.  A parent constantly works hard to do right by their kids; depression strangles the joy and amplifies the pain.

For me, there is a terrible guilt to depression.  How can somehow who is so blessed be so sad?  It’s not my darling husband making me sad, who works so hard and loves so completely.  It’s not my sweet sons making me sad, those cheerful boys who always get good grades and never ever get in trouble at school or at church.  So what’s wrong with me?

The answer is probably a bit chemical, probably a bit learned.  I don’t know the exact nature of it, and I don’t think knowing would make one lick of difference.

It’s hard for me to tell exactly how far it extends, too.  I know that it changes my perception, but I don’t know if it changes others’ perceptions of me.  Can they tell?  I know they can sometimes, when it’s really bad, and those are the times when it’s hardest to make myself keep going out.  But those are the very times when I need to keep working at the school, keep going to church, keep talking with my friends.  When I drift away from those things because I don’t want people to know, I sink deeper and deeper and deeper.  That’s when things start to get out of control and I begin hurting myself.  Sometimes the pain helps me to feel a little more control.  Sometimes it stands in as a small punishment in place of the larger one I think I deserve.  Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing it, or even that I am until I see the damage.

How does it affect me as a writer? As a volunteer at my kids’ school?  As a teacher at church?  As a wife and parent?  In every aspect of my life, depression settles first like a shroud, just a gray veil that I see the world through.  But as it gets thicker around me, it’s hard to stay connected.  I forget things: birthdays, appointments, walking the dog, eating.  I find it harder and harder to connect with the people around me, whether they’re family or strangers, on the internet or in real life.  It’s difficult to write because anything that feels genuine sounds melodramatic and whiney, but anything else feels incredibly false.  It’s difficult to work and volunteer because I feel so useless.  It’s difficult to love because I feel so unlovable.

Not everything about depression is terrible, at least not for me.  There are a few things that this struggle has granted me that I don’t know if I would have been able to learn otherwise.  Greater depth of emotion.  Stronger sympathy for any kind of suffering.   The desire to comfort people going through struggles.  An incredible love and loyalty for those who help me through.  I don’t know if I would have these qualities any other way.  These are deeply personal things and vary person to person, but this holds true for me.  Besides this, I worry that if I were to blunt my ability to feel the very deepest of my depression, I would similarly be shaving off my ability to feel the pure joy and true elation I so often do between those bouts of sadness.  I’ve never been any other way, so I don’t know.

This in no way means that I don’t fully support the use of medication under the advice of a doctor.  My illness is such that I respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, but requiring medicine is a reality for many people struggling with mental illness.  This does not make them weak or a failure any more than a cancer patient requiring chemotherapy is weak or a failure.

I’m not sure why I’m posting this here.  This is, after all, a writing blog, and depression is certainly not just for writers.  Besides that, I feel least like a writer in my deepest bouts of depression.  But I felt like it should be said.  There is an awful loneliness to depression, in that it feels like nobody understands how deeply it aches.  Maybe one of you readers feels that ache right now.  If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone, even when it feels that way.  I wish I had heard that message more when I was younger and at my most fragile.

 

Things that help me:

Give someone close a heads up when things are getting bad. I always tell my husband at the start of a bad spell, and he helps me get through. A relative, a friend, a spiritual leader, a trusted teacher: anyone who loves you would be honored to stand with you.

I keep the national suicide hotline programmed into my phone, and those wonderful folks are glad to chat for as long as they are needed.  They are so kind.  If you feel like things are starting to get out of control, look up your region’s hotline and give yourself easy access.

When I begin to sink, it’s so so important that I stay busy.  The distraction is nice, but more important are the connections to other humans.  Staying busy, whether with work or with volunteerism or just playing cards with my family, makes me feel more valued.

Exercise.  This one is so hard to hold on to when I’m in the pits, but it makes a huge difference. Whether I’m exercising by myself or with a sports team, it helps me to feel more alive at a time when I otherwise feel numb and exhausted all the time.