Life in General

Pulsing with Pride

IMG_5590When I moved to Chicago in 2012, my roommate (and more recently, the Maid of Honor in my wedding) and I settled on an apartment on the North side of the city. Barely a block from the Addison Red Line Station, my means of transportation to my (non-librarian) job in the Loop, our apartment was situated smack dab between Halsted Street and Sheffield Avenue.

If you’re somewhat familiar with the Chicago Cubs, Addison and Sheffield might ring a bell: they are two of the streets that border the Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field (the other two streets being Waveland and Clark). That was a huge reason for our move to this particular location: we were very excited to be part of the sights and sounds of Wrigleyville. We could literally hear game days and concerts from our bedroom windows; it was a dream come true for a girl who bleeds Cubbie blue.

Little did I know that, between Sheffield and Halsted, despite my deep love for Cubs baseball, it was the latter of those two streets that would win my heart. As it turned out, another neighborhood lay to the East of Wrigleyville, one I didn’t know existed until I lived in it: Halsted is the epicenter of Chicago’s gay community and the main drag of Chicago’s Boystown or, as it is oft affectionately called, the “gayborhood.”

Looking for lunch one day, my roommate and I wandered East from our humble abode and stumbled into a rainbow-plastered wonderland of flashy drag shows, quaintly decorated bakeries, cleverly named sex shops, and lunch-special alcoholic slushies. Despite our being straight in every sense of the word, this neighborhood and its residents welcomed us with open arms at all times of the day and night without question and without reservation. The pocket of time during which I first explored Halsted Street and Boystown will forever remain one of the best of my life.

It is during that time, in fact, at a special bar in Boystown where I started talking to the man who would become my husband. And as much as I owe my relationship and my future to this place, I understand so gravely the irony of that situation.

Looking back, it struck me dumb how a community of people discriminated so heavily against were so quick to turn around and do the exact opposite. These people, this community, they know who they are, they love it, and they are delighted to share it with you. Life in your early 20s is about finding yourself, and part of that is finding the type of people you want to emulate. I was lucky enough, at the age of 23, to find them. I wanted to emulate this community’s openness, tenacity, and, to use the perfect word, pride. In return, I make it a point to be their advocate and to share heartily in their joys and their woes.

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Perhaps it goes without saying, but the events of Pride quickly became mainstays in my city life. To this day I look forward to that week of June beginning with Pride Fest and ending with the Pride Parade; events that still take place just blocks from where I live. Although Boystown (like many neighborhoods in cities around the country) is more or less a safe space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, I understand why Pride is so important: it is a time when all people in this community can celebrate themselves despite what the rest of the world might think.

FullSizeRender copyAnd what the world thinks is still changing so drastically. Last year, I found myself in San Francisco for the Pride Parade and joyously celebrated marriage equality in what is arguably the most thriving gay community in the nation. This year, just two weeks after a woeful massacre at a gay Orlando nightclub, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States to date, I celebrated the same enduring strength that won me over and continues astonish and inspire me.

And so this post is my way of saying thank you to this community, and openly celebrating them in a shadow of what they truly deserve; to share with them and with others my unabashed admiration of their gumption; to shine light on the long road they have already travelled, and to show what a long road still lay ahead. Perhaps the way the way I have been inspired can inspire others to advocate for this community and accept it as they themselves accept all. Because they deserve love, they deserve respect, they deserve community, and they deserve pride -not just one week in June, but every damn day.

So please, whatever you identify as, do your best to celebrate everyone and who they are -with pride- every damn day. Who knows: it might just become the norm. And how special would that be?

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Reading

Let’s Hear It For the (Kids and) Teens

I read an article today trying to tell me that most of the good, worthwhile books labeled Young Adult are actually for adults. Because books “really” for teenagers are easy and cheesy and ultimately forgettable.

I am not going to name that article or even the venue on which it was posted. I’m not here to drag names or establishments through the mud. I am here to stand up and give my viewpoints on things I think need saying, to defend things that need defending.

And so, allow me to say: No. Most Young Adult fiction is not grown-up fiction in disguise. YA fiction is fiction written about teenagers for teenagers- so if a book is YA, it is YA and meant for teenagers. Period.

I think the confusion here is that most YA fiction is attention-grabbing and “unputdownable” and deep and dark and dirty and unveils important themes and holds universal truths and makes you think like you haven’t since your school days and feel in a way usually reserved for “real life.” Most YA fiction is good fiction by amazing writers, and it seems that some adults are upset that good fiction and amazing talent is being “wasted” on teenagers.

And so, allow me to present my universal truths regarding this topic:

1. It should not be a problem to admit that literature for young people is good. Is great. Is often just as good as, if not better than, adult fiction. The people writing it are good, great, just as good, in fact, as any other writers- so why wouldn’t their masterpieces be the same?

2. That said, our good, great, best literature should be geared toward children and teenagers. They, after all, have the most to reap from it and the most potential to put forth from the lessons gathered. Isn’t that the goal of childrearing, after all?

3. Drop the stigma. Adults scoff at so much meant for and created by youth (One Direction, “bae”, high waisted shorts and crop tops, selfies and doing it for the vine…), so trying to steal YA as our own or treating books “really” meant for teens as lesser is just taking away the one thing most people would agree teens should be into: reading. Let the kids have their books, please.

4. Read YA with pride, no matter your age. We’re all young at heart, we’ve all been teenagers, we all still have something to learn at our particular stage in life. Once we acknowledge this, we can all enjoy YA together and that is the world I want to live in.

I am a youth services librarian, a scholar of all literature, and I write (you guessed it) Young Adult fiction in my free time. I feel qualified to make grand statements defending this category (not genre) of literature and for it to mean something.

It may go without saying, but I’ve read a lot of books in my life. And some of the best books I’ve ever read? Young. Adult. Fiction.

YA is what it is and it’s here to stay. Get over it and get into it.

Writing

Shitty First Drafts (You Didn’t Hear It Here First)

For the first time ever, outside of school assignments and blog posts, I have a finished first draft of a project.

And as exciting as it is, it’s also kind of strange.

I’ve been writing and studying writing and reading other people’s writing for quite a while and while I never thought I knew it all, I didn’t realize the depth of what I could learn with such a seemingly simple accomplishment.

I had an idea for a picture book, you see. As a librarian and frequent reader of picture books, I know the types I like best. And after a bit of research, I knew how to structure a draft and what word count to hit.

And my draft looked nothing like that.

Before, while trying to write essays or novels or what have you, I always stopped once my project stopped looking how it was supposed to. I could never bear to go forward knowing the mess I was making; it’s just not my way. But, alternatively, I never could tweak my work to make it right… and so I left it alone, imperfect and unfinished.

Every. Single. Time.

But a picture book clocks in at 1000 words tops. How much damage could I really do? So I wrote, even when I knew it was bad and too long and not the bouncy, catchy picture book I wanted. I wrote. And I wrote. And I got down my entire little story, for better or for worse.

And once I saw the whole picture, once I saw the whole big mess of a first draft I had created, I knew exactly how to fix it.

Exactly.

I don’t anticipate a longer work- a nonfiction essay or a novel, for instance- to have such a clear cut fix, to be such a simple mop up to go from absolute crap to actually not that bad. But the fact that it was the finished draft in its entire, shitty glory that spurred the fix…

That gives me all the confidence I need going forward.

For now, anyway.

So here’s to an invaluable lesson learned, shitty first drafts, and to those who write them.

And now to mount an entirely different horse… editing.

Writing

A Very Good Place

The beginning is a very good place to start. Or so Frauline Maria and the Von Trapp children would have us believe.

And I suppose this is the beginning. Of both my little webpage and perhaps of a writing career. I’ve been priming myself to write for a long time– I’ve fancied myself a writer since I was about 8 years old, I was in my high school’s creative writing club, and heck, I even majored in Creative Writing in college.

So why did it take me so long to start?

I suppose the reasons I could give are the reasons we all find ourselves giving for not doing something sooner. I was busy. I was honing my craft. I was scared.

But the most important thing isn’t any the reason I haven’t started yet. It’s the fact that I’m starting.

I’ve been writing things, but not seriously. Not diligently. I have “works in progress,” if “in progress” means editing the same 1500 words I was able to pound out one NaNoWriMo two years ago. Which, if we’re being honest, it doesn’t.

I don’t know what’s changed recently that made me think now is the time. Maybe it’s finally getting a job in a library I am happy with. Maybe it’s getting that whole wedding thing out of the way. Maybe I’ve just found that there is no right time, there’s just right now.

And right now? I’m currently sitting on an SCBWI Write This! entry, I am about 5000 words deep in a young adult story, and a picture book idea has been outlined and is slowly making its way into a first draft.

So that’s where I am. Only time will tell where I’m going. And I hope you’ll come along for the ride.