Hello strangelings! (Honorary and otherwise)

Three lovely things:

  1. Did you finish Sorrowland? Did you love it? ME TOO. No worries if you gotten to it yet, because there are no rules in the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club. But I’m going to open it up for discussion here and on the Fantastic Strangelings Facebook page if you want to talk about it because personally I have questions and I suspect someone smarter than me will have answers.
  2. If you’re a member of the Fantastic Strangelings (THANK YOU! YOU ARE KEEPING US IN BUSINESS!) you’ve already gotten my email about this month’s book but in case you missed it or are an honorary member…here is this month’s choice:

It’s The Chose and the Beautiful and it is divine and on the way to you as we speak.

June was a hard month (in the best way) because there were SO MANY amazing books to choose from.  I read 11 and was having a hard time picking the best one because I really adored several but then Elizabeth slipped me The Chosen and the Beautiful.  It didn’t seem like my type of book…a reimaging of The Great Gatsby?…because I’m one of those few people who sort of thought The Great Gatsby was overrated, but then I looked a little closer.  A reimagining from the viewpoint of Jordan, as a queer, Vietnamese adoptee…where magic literally exists and infernal pacts with the devil, cursed parties and drinking demon blood is just par for the course?  And add to that the fact that the author (Nghi Vho) writes in the most gorgeous prose…honestly, I know some people will call it sacrilege but I think this retelling is so much better than the original.  (And you don’t have to have read the original to enjoy it.)  It’s a lovely, quick and decadent read.

3. I always pick an optional bonus book for those of us who need a few to pass the month and this month I can’t recommend enough The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson, a memoir equal parts hysterical and achingly poignant. Want more? My pleasure! Here are some of the June books I loved: Girl One (Orphan Black meets Margaret Atwood in this twisty supernatural thriller about female power). Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch: A Novel (Historical fiction about a society and family undone by superstition, hysteria and fear). The Wolf and the Woodsman (inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology, this book follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant). Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports (Stories from alligator hunting to wingsuit flying to downhill skiers caught in an avalanche. I don’t like sports but this book was amazing.) Rabbits (A deadly underground game might just be altering reality itself. This book freaked me the fuck out. But in a good way.) The Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot (The sweetest book. An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories.  You’ll probably cry but it is 100% worth it.) The Maidens (Dark and twisty psychological suspense). A Sitting in St. James (Three-time National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia masterwork explores the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America —empathetic, brutal, and entirely human—and essential reading for both teens and adults grappling with the long history of American racism).

4. I know I said there were just three things but I don’t know how to turn off outnumbering so I’ll just say that I know some of you were sad that we ran out of spots this month to join the Fantastic Strangelings because you tried to join and it wouldn’t let you but actually that was just a technical glitch that I think has been fixed so if you want to join there is no better time. You get a kick-ass Fantastic Strangelings pin just for joining and then we send you a book a month. And most of the time the cover price of the book is higher than the $25 a month so you’re actually saving money while supporting an indie shop. And the books coming up later this year are SO GOOD. I’m not naming names yet but be prepared for a fascinating memoir next month and a Shirley Jackson-esque mystery in August and book in September that ripped my heart out and put it back in me again.

PS. My take on Sorrowland is in the comments. Happy reading!

Non-binary pronouns. It’s complicated, but wonderful things usually are.

So.

A few months ago Hailey said they felt like they were non-binary (someone who doesn’t identify as solely male or female), but that they were okay with “she/they” as pronouns, which was fine because it allowed me to be a good mother and say “I totally support what makes you happy” without actually having to do much work at all because I could still use mostly the pronouns I’ve always used. EVERYONE WINS. But then recently they were like, “Actually? The more I use it the more ‘they’ feels right. Is that okay?” And I was like, “Totally. Easy enough.” But turns out it was not at all easy enough because my speech is so very gendered and I never realized how much until I tried to change it. So I’ve been working my ass off to try to break all the “she” habits and learn about gender identity and all that jazz and it’s been a learning experience but one that makes me a better person and my child happier. EVERYONE WINS AGAIN. (Only this time with slightly more work.)

Hailey often has to remind me when I slip up, but it takes at least two months to break a habit so it’s not a surprise that I still fuck this up and luckily Hailey is kind and understanding and knows that intent matters even when they have to quietly whisper “they” with a sweet wink while Victor and I try to relearn.

Honestly it was hard for me at first because it felt like I was stripping Hailey of their female gender, and because being a woman is so important to me personally I think I just projected that it must also be important to Hailey. It felt like I was dehumanizing them to strip them of “she” and “daughter” and “woman”. But for Hailey it was just the opposite. It was dehumanizing for others to not recognize that they are who they are…non-binary.

This has led to a lot of learning on my part and I’m still so far from understanding all of it but I’m trying. At first I was like, “This is weird to me because non-binary didn’t exist when I was growing up” but turns out that this is about the same thing as my grandma saying, “People weren’t as gay when I was young.” They totally were but they just weren’t in the position to openly be who they are. Same with non-binary. Which I guess makes sense because now I have friends my age coming out as non-binary and I have a SHIT TON of friends with non-binary kids. This is the new normal, y’all, and we need to get comfortable with it.

If you have questions I would say that GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND and there is a massive amount of information out there to answer your questions but if you want to learn along with me, here are a few questions I’ve gotten:

So what does non-binary mean? Both genders? Neither genders? Androgynous?

Um….yes? It’s pretty fluid depending on the person. Like, what does the word “woman” mean to you? Or the word “man”? Chances are it means something different to each person. Same with non-binary.

But Hailey is always in dresses and wearing make-up?

True. But boys wear dresses and make-up all the damn time now so that doesn’t really mean anything. Hailey loves dresses. They also love hoodies and jeans. Non-binary people don’t owe the world androgyny. Lots of non-binary people present in somewhat binary ways. There are no rules. And that’s a good thing.

I’m happy for them but using a plural pronoun for a single person feels weird as hell.

I totally get that but with practice it becomes normal. English is a living language and we’re constantly evolving. That’s why I’m talking to “you” right now and not “thee”. Or is it “thou”? Fuck, I can’t do old English right. Or new English, sometimes. But singular “they/them” isn’t that new. Like, if I was talking to a friend and they saw a dog locked in a hot car they’d be like, “Shit. Some asshole left their dog in their car. Guess they better get used to driving without a window since I’m gonna smash that shit in.” See. They used “they” because the asshole in question could be a girl or a guy or both or neither. Same with non-binary. In fact, I used it in referring to the “they” who was smashing shit and we didn’t even notice because we’re used to it.

How do you get used to using “they” for someone you’ve know as “she” forever?

It’s not easy to break the habit but they’re still the same person…the only difference is that now we’re using the pronouns that they’ve really been for a lot longer than you probably knew. But I still fuck it up. Like this morning someone called about Hailey and I was like, “She’s my daughter…wait, no, THEY’RE my daughter. SHIT, NO. THEY’RE MY CHILD” and Hailey could not stop laughing at me and the person on the phone hung up because I guess I scared them.

A friend of mine was like, “When my kid came out as non-binary it helped to think of them as a swarm of bees” and I was like, “Hailey, you are now a swarm of bees” and they were like, “If you’re trying to hypnotize me you are just awful at it” but then I explained that it was supposed to help with the “they” thing and they were like, “Oh. How about imagine I have a kitten in my pocket?” and I was like, “Or a ferret! OMG, we should get you a pocket ferret!” and they were like, “I don’t want a ferret. You want a ferret,” and they’re right but also, don’t you think we should get a ferret?

Wait. Are you asking me questions? I thought I was asking you questions?

Right. Sorry. Got distracted by ferrets again. But actually what has helped is just practicing talking about Hailey by myself. “I have a child named Hailey. They like Dungeons and Dragons. They love to bake. They passed 10th grade (whoop!) They love musical theater. I love them.”

Are they still a lesbian? Can you be a non-binary lesbian?

Apparently yes, they totally are.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far?

Don’t be shitty. Like, that’s what it comes down to. Be nice to people and respect their differences. And be nice to people who are learning and may fuck stuff up. It can be hard for people to change. It can be hard to be someone who sees the person they love struggle with acceptance. Those things can bring out fear and anger and then people start yelling at each other and then the people who are afraid of change run away instead of learning and the people who are dealing with this bullshit all the time are exhausted from having to constantly educate everyone and deal with shitty people making them feel bad and then we grow further away from each other rather than closer. Try to understand. Try to help in a kind way. Try to do what you can so that people feel safe to be who they are rather than what you want to see. We’ve come so far in so many ways, but there is still work to do. It’s not always fun and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but in the end it makes the world a more compassionate place.

You probably have other questions because god knows I’m still learning myself but I assure you that everything is googlable so go look up any questions you have. There are lots of answers. The problem isn’t a dearth of knowledge. It’s a dearth of acceptance. And that’s something we can fix. Not just for you or me or Hailey, but for everyone in the world who falls into some bucket of “other”.

Hey you. You need a laugh.

This week has been full of days of no electricity and internet problems and work craziness and it’s just fucking Wednesday.

If this week was a slide:

So I think we all need a break to look at the ridiculous things I saved for you on instagram. Yes, for you. You need this:

Need more? OMG me too.

Better? Me too.

It’s gonna be okay, y’all.

It’s been a weird week and it’s only Tuesday.

So Saturday we opened Nowhere Bookshop for the day and it was amazing because there were real live people in the store and my talented friend Heather Gauthier delivered a special giant celebratory painting with lots of amazing little hat-tips…

…including this one hidden in the background which took me three minutes to figure out myself:

And it was a wonderful day until I completely threw out my back and ended up in incredible pain, which would have been bad enough but then my body was like, “we can make this worse” because I have this thing that I call Vincent Vega Syndrome because I can never remember the real name for it (vasovagal syncope) but basically it causes your body to SUPER overreact and faint when you see blood or are in major pain or emotional distress and that means that while walking through my kitchen I tweaked my back and I suddenly realized I was passing out and I didn’t want to fall on the counter I was facing so I pushed off of the counter but apparently so hard that I fell into the other counter and smashed my head into a cabinet and then ricocheted into the fridge and then fell on the floor and it scared the shit out of Hailey and also myself because it sounded like someone was demolishing the kitchen and pretty much felt like I was being assaulted by ghosts. In Victorian times you always hear about women swooning gracefully but I ended up loudly pin-balling into every hard surface in my kitchen.

My doctor was like, “Wow. That sucks,” and she’s not wrong but I sort of expected more but then she was like, “Take these pills and listen to your body” and I didn’t know exactly what that last part means but I assume she was saying you’re supposed to listen to your body and rest when it hurts but mine just keeps whispering for vodka and cheese.

But today I woke up and all the bruised body parts that I smacked into kitchen counters currently hurt worse than my back so I’m counting that as a win.

PS. When will Nowhere Bookshop actually be open for good? Probably within a month or so, but follow us on instagram because that’s the best way to know. We want to make sure that the covid numbers stay low but I’m feeling really optimistic because most of the people I talked to on Saturday (before my back tried to murder me) were fully vaccinated and vaccinations are the gateway drug to open bookshops.

PPS. Did you guess the slightly obscure easter egg in Heather’s painting? Because 10 points to you, if so.

Escaping into other people’s heads

Every reader knows that books are an escape. You can leave your own world behind in a way that movies or podcasts don’t quite succeed in. Your hands are needed to hold the book. Your mind is given to the story. You lose your own self and fall into the head’s of people who make you see that there is more to the world than just you.

Reading has saved me, again and again. Books were friends when I had none. Books taught me that I was not alone. Books are where I run to when my mind is too full…when my head is too dark and dangerous of a place to stay in. Some comfort and sooth. Some break me apart to let me feel again. Some let me exercise the terror in my mind. Some remind me that there are still magnificent places I need to see…even if those places only exist in the mind of the author and their readers.

I read more when I’m depressed or anxious. I can tell the level of my mental health by looking at the stacks of books I’ve finished. When I’m in my deepest depressions I can’t read at all, but mostly I find myself sitting to close to the edge of that dark place…knowing that the darkness is coming and wanting to ward it off with stories I bring into my backyard so that I can feel the sun and remind myself that this will pass.

Today I saw the stacks of books beside my door. I always catalogue them because my mind is too forgetful and I want to remember where I’ve been and what I should reread. I look at the books that I’ve read since January.

It’s a lot. Even for a reader.

And I know this is a sign.

It’s a sign that I’m too near the edge. It’s a sign that I need to be careful.

But it’s also a map of the wonderful places I’ve visited even during the dark times. And a reminder that even when I am stuck in my own terrible mind, I can still find joy inside the minds of others.

And it’s a thank you as well. To all the writers in the world who rescue us over and over by letting us run free in strange lands. To the librarians and booksellers and friends who cherish these same books and see them through the wilderness into the hands of people who need them.

There is darkness. There is light. There are words. And the words save me from myself again and again.

Wanna explore a haunted basement with me?

Our realtor told us that there was a cool old building downtown that would make a neat place to have a Nowhere Bookshop satellite and I’m not sure we’re up to that but then he mentioned that it was built in the 1800’s and might be haunted and so I was all in. While he and Victor looked at the ground level part I snuck off into the basement, which had no electricity and was supposedly once the root cellar for the Alamo (which you can see from the front of the building) and I think that means that I just explored the motherfucking haunted basement of the Alamo and even though this building is way more work than we could ever handle it was quite an adventure and I thought I’d share:

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