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5 Tips for College Students Working with Tweens and Teens

After some reflection on four years of volunteering, interning, working with, and teaching youth, here are the five biggest takeaways I came up with — and I want to share them with you!

  1. You’re not that much older than them — use that as a strength, not a weakness.
  2. Ask them for feedback. Kids are given so few opportunities to craft their own experiences. Let this be one experience in which they have agency.
  3. It’s not your kids’ jobs to educate you about their identities. Maybe you are working with a teen who is queer or trans or indigenous or Jewish and you’ve never met someone else with that identity. That’s ok, but you have to do your research. Look online, talk to your friends and professors, and don’t perpetuate misconceptions that are avoidable.
  4. It’s good to keep kids on track, but never sacrifice bonding and community for another minute filmed or paragraph written.
  5. BE VULNERABLE. If you want your kids to be honest and open about their stories, they deserve to have you set an example.

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(Gleaned from experiences at the Tompkins County Public Library, Summer Discovery, and most of all Writopia Lab — thank you to everyone involved)

book reviews, books, children's lit, LGBT, Uncategorized, ya

Books You Should Read, A to Z: A Response to Rookie’s May 9 “Dear Diary.”

This week, for the “Dear Diary” series on Rookie Mag, Ananda listed her “Books You Should Read, A to Z.” It seemed so fun I wanted to do it too! I didn’t think much about these, so, they aren’t all-time faves or anything. It was mostly the first book that came to mind or, if it was a tough letter, scrolling through some titles on Goodreads. Hope you enjoy!

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A is for the Alice… series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, with more than two dozen books following our protagonist Alice from fourth grade through college.

 

B is for So B. It by Sarah Weeks, a beautiful story taking on tough topics in an elementary-level chapter book.

 

C is for Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and also for creepy, which is what this book is.

 

D is for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, about two Latino boys discovering their sexualities.

 

E is for Everything on a Waffle, a really cute book by Polly Horvath that is literally about many objects on a waffle.

 

F is for Firefox by Joyce Carol Oates, about girl gangs but not in a trendy way like in a terrifying way, and is not appropriate for reading in conjunction with Everything on a Waffle.

 

G is for American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a straight-up mythological mystery-epic.

 

H is for How My Personal Private Journal Became a Bestseller by Julia DeVillers, which was later made into the 2006 Disney Channel Original Movie Read it and Weep starring Kay and Danielle Panabaker.

 

I is for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and its companion books, written by Laura Numeroff with illustrations by Felicia Bond, spouting some serious life lessons.

 

J is for Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles, which provides a uniquely empathetic view toward teen pregnancy.

 

K is for The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, which is filled with so many wise quotes, including this one: “Finding out the truth is only half of it. It’s what you do with it that matters.”

L is for Lord of the Flies by William Goldman, which I like a lot solely because of the context in which I experienced reading it. I don’t think I would have liked it at all otherwise.

 

M is for Matilda by Roald Dahl. If you haven’t read Matilda, go do that right now. It probably will not take you long.

 

N is for A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, which is mad confusing but also my fave, probably because I have performed in three versions of it as four different characters.

 

O is for Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, where a psychologist working with teen girls realized a lot of consistent ways they were fucked up, and also for Ophelia Speaks by Sara Shandler, editing an anthology by teen girls struggling with the things Pipher wrote about who wanted to articulate in their own voice instead of being talked about by someone else.

 

P is for Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin, which I first read years ago, have included in three papers I’ve written in college, and probably remains my favorite piece of narrative journalism. (Following everything by Joan Didion — Didion comes first.)

 

Q is for A Circle of Quiet, a sorta-true memoir by Madeleine L’Engle which is super-introspective and wise the whole way through. There’s a lot to underline.

 

R is for Ratgirl by Kristin Hersh, a really rad memoir about music and mental illness and growth.

 

S is for Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a truly hallmark young adult book. Also, based on her internet presence and the one time my friend Maddy L. and I very briefly met her, Anderson seems to be like the nicest person ever.

 

T is for Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, a book that was so spooky in how it set its scenes in the forest that I was afraid to play outside alone for almost a month after finishing it as a kid.

 

U is for Unbearable Lightness, the memoir by Portia DeRossi (Lindsay on Arrested Development and Ellen DeGeneres’s wife) and not the Milan Kundera novel. It’s about her struggle with anorexia and she meets Ellen near the end and there’s some really lovely resolution.

 

V is for everything by Virginia Woolf but I’ll highlight Between the Acts, which was published posthumously and takes place around the framing of this huge community production and has some weird animal symbolism. (Like,  a lot of snakes!)

 

W is for A Wind in the Door also by Madeleine L’Engle, my personal favorite book in the Time Quintet which beautifully and unusually reveals the spirituality and magic of our insides.

 

X is for The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, which honestly I haven’t read but my mom did, and I love a lot of other books by Alice Hoffman, so I bet it is great! (X is tough.)

 

Y is for I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, which Amanda gave me for my birthday (thanks girl!) and explores art, death, and twin-ness in a really beautiful way.


Z is for A to Z by Sandra Boynton! Is that cheating? Probably.

 

book reviews, books, children's lit, LGBT, Uncategorized, ya

“I’d Like To Sing, I’d Like to Shout: It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring!”

Why stop now?

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This bunny and I appear to feel exactly the same way about spring.

Also, I’ve got to read more this spring! Since this semester started, I’ve only read books for either work or class, which I guess is to be expected… but I know I can do better.

1.BOYS DON’T KNIT (IN PUBLIC) by T.S. Easton (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: knitting, toxic masculinity, having juvenile delinquent friends, anxiety, being in love with your teacher, when your mom’s a professional magician

ALSO READ: The narrator of this book is so beyond endearing. He reminded me a little bit of Stewart from We Are All Made of Molecules (see: winter reading.) If you want more books about knitting, I haven’t read it in years but I really enjoyed Chicks with Sticks by Elizabeth Lenhard when I was in middle school. (Also, while looking for the title of this book, I came across The Broken Circle: Yarns of the Knitting Witches—probably my favorite subheading of all time—and in that book, the author lists the knitting patterns of what the characters are wearing, which is low-key amazing.)

2. SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin (2016)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: genderfluid identity, Congress, mental health, nice therapists, new friends, suicide, blogging, bullying, courage

ALSO READ: This book is so important and unique in the fact that there is a nonbinary character (aka, not a clear cisgender girl or guy) whose birth sex is NEVER mentioned: we get to see this character as they see themselves, in all their complexity. It’s different, but Simon (#3 on the list) is equally sweet and also equally exposes the struggles of anonymous Tumblrs in today’s high school landscape.

3. SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: emailing, school plays, sisters, close families, secrets, when your best friends have unreciprocated feelings for each other, coming out as gay, when that one cool English classroom at your school has a couch

ALSO READ: This book is adorable AND important. Read the above book too.

4. ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: injuries, Texas, new friends, poetry, Mexican-American identity, prison, family secrets, violence against LGBT youth, when a dog is a boy’s literal best friend, fathers

ALSO READ: Other books that tenderly interweave family, culture, and sexuality. Most of these LGBT YA books don’t mention race at all, and if so, in passing; the characters are white by default. That’s not the case in this novel, featuring two Latino teen boys. For more YA books that include characters of color, check this great list by Malinda Lo.

5. THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS* by E. Lockhart (2008)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: the panopticon, boyfriends, secret societies, alpha males, pranks, old boys clubs, private boarding school, being Jewish, cool roomies who love horses, emails, the Jersey Shore

ALSO READ: This book is the shit. Read about the panopticon, read We Were Liars by Lockhart for an even MORE supenseful storyline, and listen to this Jenny Lewis tune; I think that Frankie would have felt a strong connection to it.

6. BRAIN ON FIRE ~ almost done ~

7. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING ~ almost done ~

     *        *      *      *     *     *

Summer reading list here, autumn list here, winter reading list here! 

*= I’ve read this book before

PS: Whenever I think about spring, a poem that I learned in, I believe, first grade echoes through my head. I just found it online, in one specific preschool spring lesson planning PDF! It’s on page 7. It comes along with activities, if you’re interested.

Image via Samantha Berger/Scholastic

book reviews, books, children's lit, Uncategorized

Winter Reading!

It does not come as a shock that I am going to continue logging what I read, though now it will be interspersed with what I’m reading for classes, too. Here goes, starting from #1 all over again!

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  1. MY LIFE ON THE ROAD by Gloria Steinem (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: feminism, travel, Ms. magazine, India, Indian Country, organizing, father-daughter relationships, journalism, writing, the ’70s

ALSO READ: Throughout this book, in the chillest way, Steinem frequently mentions excursions with two of her best friends/two of the baddest bitches of feminist organizing in recent history, Alice Walker (writer of The Color Purple (!), among other works) and Wilma Mankiller (first woman Cherokee chief and also author of many things.) Read their books!

2. WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: stepfamilies, broadcast journalists, when your dad comes out, gifted children, friendship, teen drinking, being the school mascot, death of a parent, Schrodinger’s cat, what character arcs!

ALSO READ: This book (middle grade? YA?) blew me away. It’s pretty unlikely you’ve read this, so just read it! My second idea is to ask your youngest friend for a recommendation on their favorite book. My wonderful 1o-year-old pal Scarlett recommended this one to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s Pinkalicious (my friend’s 5-year-old’s current fave) or if your youngest friend is 30! They’re still probably reading different books from you.

3. I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson (2014)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: twins, superstitions, old wives’ tales, sculpting, painting, closeted queer love, astronomy, recovering alcoholics, modeling, boycotting boys, death of a parent

ALSO READ: This book was wild. The alternating chronology and perspectives made it a fascinating web to untangle. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan has a similar puzzle of narration, but Egan’s isn’t meant to be tied up neatly; Nelson’s book is.

4. RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE by Rita Mae Brown (1973)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: lesbians, poor white people, Florida, sex, so much sex, homelessness, moving abruptly to NYC, college, oppression of queer folks, bluntness

ALSO READ: I’m taking a class about queer young adult books, so a lot of books about queer youth are coming your way! Rubyfruit‘s narrator, Molly, is very blunt and matter-of-fact about her sexuality, despite the fact that no one in her life or community is even vaguely open to questioning their sexual orientation, and Annie, in Annie on my Mind, takes a similar view; she knows what she is (although she’s quieter about it than Molly Bolt!)

5. ANNIE ON MY MIND by Nancy Garden (1982)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: lesbians!, teachers, private school, opera, first love, contraband ear piercing, New York City, Italians, socioeconomic class, art, the Cloisters

ALSO READ: This is the beginning of the #lesbianlife books I’m reading for my queer YA class! Rubyfruit (#4) and I’ll Get There… (#7) are both other NYC queer books.

6. WE WERE LIARS* by E. Lockhart (2014)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: Martha’s Vineyard, private islands, cousins, love, when your mom and her sisters (all super-rich) are fighting for the family’s estate, PTSD, migraines, golden retrievers, amnesia, thrillers

ALSO READ: This book has QUITE the ending, which I keep hearing compared to Gone Girl. I’ve never read Gone Girl, and I’m almost certain you have, but that’s still my rec.

7. I’LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH THE TRIP. by John Donovan (1969)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: divorced parents, death of a parental figure, a daschund named Fred, NYC, alcoholic guardians, Episcopalian private school?, the late ’60s, new friends, queerness, kind of

ALSO READ: So, this is like the first LGBT YA book, apparently, which is sort of cool, but it barely mentions queerness/queer identity ’til near the end, but the kid is 13, keeps saying “I’m not a queer!,” and it takes place in the 1960s, so I guess we’ve gotta cut it a break. For another early LGBT YA book that involves major NYC sightseeing, read Annie on my Mind (above)!

8. PARROTFISH* by Ellen Wittlinger (2007)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: trans, ftm, new friends, nerds, Christmas pageants, gender roles, school TV crew, bullies, homeschooling

ALSO READ: My friend John knows all about this crew of books, and one he recommended is Beyond Magenta, a narrative and photo book profiling trans youth’s experience.

9. LUNA by Julie Ann Peters (2004)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: trans characters, sisters, lifelong BFFs, computer geniuses, having chemistry with chemistry lab partners, babysitting foibles

ALSO READ: I used to really love the book Define Normal by her and it’s probably still really awesome! Read that!

10. RAINBOW BOYS by Alex Sanchez (2001)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: swimmers, unprotected sex, biracial identity, abusive parents, little sisters, starting a gay-straight alliance, LGBTQ support groups, having a crush on your BFF, undiagnosed eating disorders, being unsure if you should keep dating your girlfriend, supportive moms, unsupportive dads, supportive dads

ALSO READ: This book really runs the gambit of Shitty Things That Can Happen to Teen Boys While They Are Also Struggling with Coming Out. I would recommend the beautiful  LGBTQ YA anthology Am I Blue? if you’re interested in coming out stories!

11. PANTOMIME by Laura Lam (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: circuses, acrobats, intersex identity, transition, running away from your noble family, older brothers, corrupt leaders, probably being descended from the gods

ALSO READ: Ok, the concept of this book is so cool — intersex character runs away from being a princess in royalty and joins the circus — but I honestly did not like the execution of the book very much at all. Intersex people deserve way better YA lit representation. For books about circuses, however, I’ve heard The Night Circus is amazing.

     *        *      *      *     *     *

Summer reading list here, autumn list here, winter reading list here! 

*= I’ve read this book before

Image by Ezra Jack Keats via Amazon. (This is my all-time favorite winter book, and it’s probably some of yours too!)

 

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Happy Winter! & 4 Vital Resources

Hi friends! Happy December! For those of us in the northern hemisphere, in less than a week, our daylight hours will start to increase again– for me, that’s one of the greatest gifts of the holidays.

If you were going to stop reading after that paragraph, that is absolutely fine. However, if you’re going to read anything I post this year (and I’m grateful to say that I have posted/written many things I’m proud of) let it be this.

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I’ve collected some resources about making it through the supposedly-delicious holiday season when struggling with/in recovery from an eating disorder, as well as what to do if your friend or family member is struggling with the same thing. You might think- “Wait! That doesn’t apply to me!”

But it almost definitely does. A whopping 95 percent of the people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25, and those are the ages of many of you who will read this. If that’s not enough, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 women (!) struggle with an eating disorder. Do you know five women. Ok, so that’s kind of what I’m getting at. (Many men struggle as well, and their rates are even harder to find because so few seek treatment since eating disorders are often minimized as a mental health issue only for ladies.)

This post would be remiss without me mentioning something I almost never do: this post important to me for a lot of reasons. Even if I was only counting good friends with diagnosed or diagnosable eating disorders, it would take more than one hand. As a friend, this matters to me. As a body-positive feminist, this matters to me. And especially as a person who is in recovery from an eating disorder herself, this matters to me.

Thank you,

Alexa
1. 22 Things People with Eating Disorders Want Others to Know About the Holidays (This one is my favorite one!)

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2. 10 Things I Wish People Understood About Eating Disorders (Have this bookmarked and play it out of a speaker the next time someone says something ignorant.)

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3. How to Handle Holidays Feasts When You Have an Eating Disorder  (No matter what’s going on with you, it’s always important to create space for yourself during social times of the year!)

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4. Five Tips to Prepare for the Holidays (This one’s a little more clinical.)

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Images via Psychology Today, The Mighty, @fyeahmfabello on YouTube, Reddit, & The Mighty

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5 Overlooked Costumes for Young Women

I know it’s not Halloween season, but my costume brainstorming never ceases. So, here goes…

  1. Ann & Nancy Wilson in the video for “Alone”

The giant black ballroom dresses. The fishnet veil. The thick-rimmed eyeliner. The leather. THE LEATHER.

This costume is recommended for piano and guitar-players, sisters, and those pairs in which one person has light hair and one person has dark hair. Warnings: the dresses probably weigh a zillion pounds, so they probably won’t be too mobile.

  1. Nani & Lilo from Lilo & Stitch

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Being that this is, like, the only Disney cartoon with realistic body types, this is a great one if you feel like your stomach is not flat enough for Halloween– a physically impossibility, btw, because Halloween knows no bounds. Nani has some rockin’-strong thighs and great hair. The only issue is that Lilo needs to be at least three feet shorter than Nani, think that aliens are dogs, and have hair the length of her body.

  1. Alice and the White Rabbit

This is only a problem because someone’s going to get to wear mary janes and a Peter Pan collar and be cute as hell, and the other one is going to have to wear bunny ears, a formal vest, a monocle, and no pants (according to the Tim Burton version, and also just for sharp contrast. People will definitely know who’s who in the pair if you remind them that bunnies don’t wear pants.) I’d recommend drawing straws to decide.

  1. Virginia Woolf & Vita Sackville-West

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Excellent costume if you and your girl BFF are both married to different men, all of you are in the artsy in-crowd (you know, like the popular stoner drama-geeks), but you and said friend are actually in a secret and passionate lesbian relationship that your husband is chill with but your girl’s husband is so not. If you like floor-length and poorly-fitted dresses, even better!

  1. Two ears

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For those with high pain tolerances, because there are gonna be piercings all over. Since your whole body is an ear, here are the substitutions: a shoulder is the cartilage, a belly button is one of those tragus things, and your knee is your earlobe itself. Go figure.

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Vocab Words Learned from “American Gods”

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was, for me, a wild introduction to the genre of fantasy/mythology novels for grown-ups. It went from being intriguing to baffling and, when the end of the epilogue rolled around, genuinely epic. I learned so much from this book, most notably more vocab words than I’ve learned from a novel in years. I read this book mostly on the go, so I kept track of all the words on the first page. (Don’t judge, book purists!)

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(the first page)

But because so many of the words were so phonetically wild, I decided to play a game I used to play in a summer writing camp as a kid, where you ask someone to spontaneously define a word they don’t know and there are no wrong answers. I did that on the phone and over text for this crazy vocabulary, and it was super-fun. Here are the definitions, and thanks to my friends and family members for helping me out with their fake definitions!


avuncular:to take a specific path, literally or figuratively” –My dad

actual definition

avuncular (adj):

  • of an uncle
  • like an uncle

becalmed: “not so mad” –Amanda

actual definition

becalmed (adj):

  • kept from moving because there is no wind
  • made calm

blippeting: when something is jumpy –My mom

actual definition

blippeting: ????

  • this is the only word for which I could not find a defintion anywhere! I think it’s similar to “blip,” though, a verb meaning “make a short high-pitched sound or succession of sounds”

brook (v): “to move quickly” –Dad

actual definition

brook (v):

  • put up with; endure; tolerate

cadge: being stuck -Abby

actual defintion

cadge (v):

  • beg shamelessly

caracole: a lively action of some sort in the motion of going backwards -Scarlett, age 10

actual definition

caracole:

  • (n): a half-turn to the right or left, made by a horse and rider
  • (v): to make such half-turns
  • (v): to prance from side to side

clangor: noisy – Mom // group of rocks –Dad

actual definition

clangor (n)

  • a continued clanging (clanging: a loud, harsh ringing sound)

cloy: carve clay -Abby

actual definition

cloy (v):

  • make or become weary by too much of anything pleasant

disgorge: to jump –Mom

actual definition

disgorge (v):

  • to throw up the contents; empty; discharge
  • give up unwillingly

durance: the opposite of endurance, being unable to maintain an activity –Maddy L.

actual definition

durance (n):

  • imprisonment

enmities: perks you get for collecting loyalty points at chain hotels. used in a sentence: we stayed in 8 Best Westerns around the country last fall, and the last one we got an upgraded to a suite because of our enmitie points –Maddy F.

actual definition

enmity (n)

  • the feeling that enemies have for each other

flay: frolick -Abby

actual definition 

flay (v)

  • strip off skin
  • scold severely; criticize mercilessly

frisson: French derivative, meaning fruity –Maddy L.

actual definition

frission (n):

a sudden strong feeling or emotion


galoot: someone stupid –Amanda

actual definition 

galoot (n):

  • a fool

(congrats to Amanda for getting a word’s exact definition by random guess! <3)


glutinous: thickness –Tania

actual definition

glutinous (adj):

  • feeling like glue; sticky

hectoring: bothering someone -Abby

actual definition

hectoring (v):

  • bullying or teasing

inter: to decide –Mom

actual definition

inter (v):

  • to put a dead body into a grave or tomb

libation: freedom –Amanda

actual definition

libation (n):

  • pouring out of wine, water, etc. as an offering to a god
  • the above offering

mandlin: a miniature mandolin –Victoria

actual definition

mandlin (adj):

  • agreeable
  • sweet

mellifluous: an ingredient in mucinex –Victoria

actual definition

mellifluous (adj):

  • sweetly or smoothly flowing

modalities: services included in a modern day basic package of utilities in a house or apartment. This is included but not limited to: air conditioning, cable & wifi. –Maddy F.

actual definition

modality (n):

  • the quality of being modal
    • modal: having more to do with form than substance

perspicacity: the finite number of ways you can view a particular situation. A mix of the words “perspective” and “capacity”. For example: “Joe missed curfew last night and his parents were out convinced he was being a hooligan with his bros. Joe argued that he could have been out late studying. His parents said there was a perspicacity of reasons why he was out late, and studying is not an adequate excuse.” –Maddy F.

actual definition

perspicacity (n):

  • keen perception; discernment

prestidigitation: pompous or being too wordy/intellectual –Maddy L.

actual definition

prestidigitation (n):

  • slight of hand

reprovingly: annoyingly –Maddy L.

actual definition

reprove (v):

  • show disapproval of
  • blame

roiling: really mad –Amanda

actual definition

roiling (v):

  • making water muddy by stirring up sediment
  • disturb or vex

susurrus: to dig in & set up a protective area, like to protect your property or building –Dad

actual definition

susurration (n) (this is another word I couldn’t find, but this seems close):

  • whispering
  • a rustling murmur

symptic: someone who always seems to have the symptoms of fake diseases -Victoria

actual definition

symptic: ????

  • couldn’t find this one either

thylacine: a type of medicine -Scarlett

actual definition

thylacine (n):

  • “The thylacine was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. It is commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger or the Tasmanian wolf.” –Wikipedia

tumescent: the smell of dead people. derived from the root word “scent” and Latin word “tume” meaning tomb –Maddy F.

actual definition

tumescent (adj)

  • swollen or becoming swollen, especially as a response to sexual arousal (eww)

hope you learned something! 🙂

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My Advice for New York City

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As some people who know me i.r.l. are aware, I have been commuting from the suburbs to Brooklyn for an internship this summer. Although the internship is wonderful, I am not a huge fan of New York City—it has so much to offer, and I am grateful I’m in its proximity, but it is mostly terrifying. I was hoping it would grow on me, but it absolutely did not.

(Here is a list of things that, with time and familiarity, I grew to love:

kale, writing in only lowercase letters, & Nicki Minaj

Here is a list of things that, with time and familiarity, just kept getting worse:

living in a triple, “The Big Bang Theory,” & New York City)

So over the past few months, I’ve been developing a list of advice for NYC. Not for people living there, or people commuting there: for NYC itself

Five Ideas New York City Should Consider

  1. More public bathrooms

Why are there not more bathrooms, New York City? Sometimes the Starbucks bathrooms need a key, and you know that barista is not giving it to you for free. My friend Maddy told me that when she was in London, sometimes you had to pay a few cents to get in, but there were public bathrooms all over the place. I don’t like the idea that bathroom usage has the elitism of costing money, but hey, having bathrooms abound does not sound like the worst idea. Listen to London on this one, NYC.

  1. More addresses posted on buildings

New York, I know you’re a grid and not supposed to be that hard to navigate. I’m pretty handy with a map myself, and now that phone GPSs exist, it should be simple, right? It should be, but no, it’s not if so many of your buildings don’t have addresses on them, especially since the numbers skip and aren’t always in the perfect order. Put your building number on your front door, like homes in a suburban housing development! I’ll be able to find the photo studio my boss asked me to so much more easily. Please and thank you.

  1. Walk on the right side of the street

I know NYC is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities and, in some nations, the driving/walking thing is reversed. However, that’s not an excuse for a ton of you. You walk on the right side of the direction you’re going, especially on the subway. (Gothamist just wrote about this last week!) It will stop us from walking into each other, and I also get to maintain my stubbornness about being right. Win-win?

  1. Less handing me religious paraphernalia

I don’t want to convert to anything right now, but I feel really bad not taking the thing you handed me, and then I’m going to waste it by throwing it away. No one wants that!

  1. Try smiling

At my college, by default, a lot of people who just kind of know you (or, like, made out with your roommate’s friend’s group project pal) will smile at you by default because of shared connections. NYC is full of shared connections (have you ever seen a New York-set rom com???) so why don’t we smile? I mean, I got not-so-friendly glances just from the other folks in my high school, but I think that smiling at each other would not kill all of us walking on the street, especially since we don’t even all speak the same language. Can’t hurt.

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Summer Reading!

Due to my super-long commute on internship days and my unusual abundance of free time on others, I have read a lot of books this summer. The thing is that I’m not a very critical book reviewer; unless I really didn’t like it, the last book I read almost always skyrockets to “one of the best books I’ve ever read” for a week or two at least. So here is a list of some books I’ve read so far this summer, as well as a few “prominent aspects” to help you identify whether you’d like to read them.

1. VIOLET AND CLAIRE* by Francesca Lia Block (1999)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: the ‘90s, Tori Amos, body image, Tinkerbell, manic pixie dream girls, queer girls, not relating to your mother, Los Angeles, friendship-between-girls-is-vital, super-short books with big font

ALSO READ: The whole Dangerous Angels series by the same author, starting with Weetzie Bat. There’s really nothing else like it.

2. AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman (2002)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: mythology, mystery, prison, being confused the whole time, improving your vocabulary, super-long books with super-tiny font

ALSO READ: Re-reading the entire Harry Potter series takes the same amount of energy as just reading this book, so, you could do that. Or just watch the movies again.

3. A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD* by Jennifer Egan (2011)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: short stories, Microsoft PowerPoint, kleptomania, Bay Area ‘80s punk, multigenerational families, teenage runaways

ALSO READ: The way these characters’ lives interweave over time reminds me of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, but that’s also because I read both books concurrently when I was a freshman in high school. Still, if you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities, you totally should. Lots of ladies fainting and French Revolution terror.

4. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES* by Sue Monk Kidd (2003)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: death of a parent, bees, the Virgin Mary, the Moon, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, South Carolina, the idea that lots of adults in our lives can step up as surrogate parents, honey as holy water

ALSO READ: There are epigraphs at the beginning of each paragraph from different scientific books about bees— I’d check them out!

5. THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE* by E.L. Konigsburg (2006)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: summer camp, roses, art, activism, when a small child gets the law on her side, immigrants, community

ALSO READ: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg takes place in the same upstate NY town as this story, and it’s a wonderful novel. Also, the protagonist routinely states the phrase “I prefer not to” throughout the book as homage to “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Meliville, so read that too.

6. HOW THE GARCÍA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS by Julia Alvarez (1992)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: sisterhood, sisters who hate each other, divorce, mental health, the Dominican Republic, parents who oppose dictatorships, immigration, sex, the Spanish language, beautiful imagery

ALSO READ: ¡Yo! by Julia Alvarez, which I also read this summer. It basically proposes that Yolanda (aka Yo), one of the four García sisters, wrote a book much like the above novel.  ¡Yo! comprises different people’s reactions to reading it: her parents, her ex-professor, even her stalker. Very neat lesson in perspective.

7. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neal Hurston (1937)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: womanism, sharecropping, racism, the Harlem Renaissance, dialect, biracial identity, absolutely badass women

ALSO READ: Anything by Toni Morrison.

8. GREAT by Sara Benincasa (2014)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: This is a contemporary retelling of the Great Gatsby except the Daisy/Gatsby incarnates are lesbian teens (!!!)

ALSO READ: The Great Gatsby, again.

9. CAT’S EYE by Margaret Atwood (1998)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: childhood bullying, straight-up bitches, artists, older ladies, the Catholic Church, the outdoors, exploring chronology

ALSO READ: Poetry (doesn’t have to be Atwood’s, but the lyricism of her narration made me crave poems afterward.)

10. THE WORLD IS ROUND by Gertrude Stein (1939)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: children’s lit, BEAUTIFUL illustrations, a rose is a rose is a rose (etc.), rhyming, this book will make you cry, it at least made me cry, our protagonist Rose frequently cries

ALSO READ: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

11. A WRINKLE IN TIME* by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: Evil, God, grand Greek centaur women with wings, the idea that unconditional love can fight all darkness, a girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty or smart enough, time travel, space travel, the fifth dimension, dystopian planets, there is such a thing as a tesseract

ALSO READ: The other books in The Time Quartet! Maybe also the Bible. (I know a lot of the series is totally supposed to be biblical but I also know zero about the Bible.) You could also read up on astronomy (for this specific book), biology (for the second book), Ireland (for the third); and I’m pretty sure the whole Noah’s Ark thing is the basis for the fourth.

12. SELECTED STORIES by Alice Munro (1968-1994)

(I didn’t read all of them but I read some which is ok because they are short stories.)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: narration by young girls, Canada, specifically the rural area around Lake Huron, Great Depression, retrospective. My favorite one was called “Material,” and “Postcard” was like 100% heartbreaking.

ALSO READ: Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion is the best-written non-fiction I’ve ever read, and even if it’s not “the best,” it is my favorite. These are some of the best-written short fiction stories I’ve ever read, and they are both by literary-colossal women, which is how I am bridging the connection.

13. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery (1908)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: adoption, unmarried old siblings, farms, Canada, trying ice cream for the first time, having a “scope for imagination,” breaking a slate over a boy’s head because you’re pissed at him, red hair, academic competition

ALSO READ: When I started reading this book, I could not believe I’d never read it before. It’s so ahead of its time. Anne is a precursor to all the spunky/badass girl protagonists I love, from Princess Mia Thermopolis to Junie B. Jones. Her bluntness and strength paired with adolescent insecurity reminded me most of Mia, though, so The Princess Diaires series by Meg Cabot (especially the first book) is my best recommendation.

14. THE HANGED MAN by Francesca Lia Block (1999)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: recovery, healing, beautiful boys, beautiful little girls, Los Angeles, heroin, anorexia, death, hope

ALSO READ: same as for #1

15. ELEANOR AND PARK* by Rainbow Rowell (2012)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: The Smiths, the ’80s, Nebraska, biracial identity, small-towns, child abuse

ALSO READ: This is YA romance at its very best. I know John Green is a controversial literary fellow, and maybe now he’s a little overblown, but his The Fault in our Stars or, my by-far-favorite, Looking for Alaska, serve as great companions to this novel. All three have the potential to genuinely make you both laugh and cry.

16. THE WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum (1899)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: silver shoes, good witches, bad witches, humbugs, Kansas, is this all a metaphor for the political facades of the time, or the Gilded Age?, I don’t know, Dorothy, Toto, munchkins, flying monkeys

ALSO READ: Hm… this is a tough one, because there are so many. You can watch the movie starring Judy Garland, or also The Wiz, both of which are musical renditions of Dorothy’s journey. Baum wrote 14 more Oz books too, if you want more of the original, but tons of other authors wrote more books set in the world he created. Some of the most famous Oz spin-off books are those by Gregory Maguire, most notably Wicked, but if the book is too long and/or scandalous, just listen to the OBC recording of the award-winning musical!

17. WILD by Cheryl Strayed (2012)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: family, hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail, heroin, divorce, grief, mothers, younger brothers, highbrow lit, Snapple lemonade

ALSO READ: For this, my advice is a little more vague: read a book you’ve wanted to read for a while, but you thought you shouldn’t, because it was too girly/gory/baby-ish/intellectual/unintellectual, or whatever else. Wild came into my path a bunch of times, but I kept avoiding it because it always proclaimed on the cover that Oprah liked it, which I thought meant it was a boring-ass book for sad middle-aged ladies AND that it was trendy, too things I try to avoid. (No offense to anyone who fits those descriptions; you’re a great crew.) But this book was so thought-provoking and soul-provoking, and I’m so glad I got past my own dumb readerly pride and devoured it.

18. GIRL ON A TRAIN by Paula Hawkins (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: girls, trains, affairs, therapists, missing persons, multiple perspectives, this book was scary, the whole time, I didn’t like it

ALSO READ: This book was the first self-proclaimed thriller I read, and I hated it, mostly because I hate suspense/anticipation/any surprise ever. For that reason, I’m struggling to recommend another book… You can watch “Thriller” instead, perhaps. No reason to get any more scared than you are already.

Reading doesn’t stop because summer ends! Check here for my fall reading list! 

PS: *= This is a re-read. I do a lot of re-reading. Also, some books were for an assignment.

PPS: Children’s lit is equal or greater to grown-up lit. You have no argument there.

PPPS: Do you have any book recs? Send them my way! No genre is unacceptable.

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Review: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

“My most prized possession was my lanyard of Lip Smackers,” Janet Mock writes of her early adolescence. “…I tore it out of the confines of the paper package, which read, ‘All the flavor of being a girl.’” Young Mock, just beginning to present herself femininely, wore the lanyard constantly, a visible marker that she was a girl.

This is just one of the many poignant anecdotes Janet Mock provides of her “path to womanhood” in her 2014 memoir “Redefining Realness,” which reaches from her childhood to soon before the book’s publication. The book creatively peppers a chronological narrative of her early life with contemporary statistics and moving literary quotes that make Mock’s already-compelling story all the more relevant.

The book is framed by Mock’s interactions with her current partner in 2009. We begin on their first date, when Mock is contemplating whether she should tell him she is trans. Because of that perspective, we hear her story told with trust and compassion, a story told with love, because she is telling it to her partner as well. This allows us an immediate intimacy into her nuanced narrative.

Mock’s story does not resemble the narrative of trans people often portrayed by the media as a physical—usually surgical—transition that alters identity. It is absolutely not about a “sex change.” As she states explicitly at the close of the book: “What I want people to recognize is that ‘transitioning’ is not the end of the journey. Yes, it’s an integral part of revealing who we are to our- selves and the world, but there’s much life afterward.”

In Mock’s case, there’s also so much before. We learn of her experiences as a Hawaiian-black child growing up primarily in Hawaii, as well as Oakland and Texas, and her complex family life. She discusses her parents’ drug addictions, her teen-mother sisters, experiences with domestic violence and child sexual abuse and sex work, and the always-present intersections of her gender, sexuality, race and class. For example, she and her brother Chad were often harassed on the playground for their blackness, an invisible distinction. “I say this,” she explains, “because the kids who teased us were as brown as us, but we were black. There was a racial order that existed…” This is just one demonstration of her careful examination of the dichotomy between visible and invisible difference.

Mock, as a self-defined “low-income trans woman of color,” lives her life at one of the most oppressed intersections, but never overlooks her points of privilege, especially in terms of her societally-approved beauty and ability to “pass.” In one scene where Mock is beginning to become acquainted with a group of older trans women sex workers, the term “fishiness” is used in Hawaiian slang for the same purpose. “To be fish meant I could ‘pass’ as any other girl, specifically a cis woman, mirroring the concept of realness…” (A cis person is someone whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.) Realness is a form of protection.

A feminist mantra since the 1970s has been that the personal is political. Mock brings this platitude to reality repeatedly with well-sourced anecdotes about the state of trans people in America. For example, as Mock cites in the book, trans women of color face a constant threat of violence, one that is greatly increased if one does not “embody realness.” This is substantiated in a 2014 Vice article by Mary Emily O’Hara: “‘Usually what we see is homicides of low income trans women of color are the ones where police don’t respond as fast as they should with the forcefulness that they should. It’s not just a trans issue, then, but an issue of income and color,” Osman Ahmed, research and education coordinator for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), said in an interview.”

Ahmed acknowledges the same intersecting oppressions that Mock does continually, especially in her discussion of sex work, which she engaged in in her late teens in order to fund the surgery that would allow her to have a vagina. She provides the experience of someone for whom survival sex work is the only option from a first-hand perspective, not sparing any details, and links it back to systemic oppression. This is where Mock thrives; she links feminist theory and statistics and literature with her own life experience, making it accessible to readers both old and new to the topic.

This accessibility is what makes the book most valuable; her story is built on a foundation of compassion and the struggle for self-definition and social acceptance. When Mock details the mood swings she felt as a teen taking hormones, her obsessions with certain idols and pop icons like Janet Jackson and Beyoncé and the alienation she felt living in her changing body, her experience mirror that of many other women’s paths, both cis and trans, into womanhood. Mock quotes feminist writer Simone De Beauvoir’s famous claim that “One is not born, but becomes, a woman.” That’s true for all of us who identify as women, regardless of what sex we’re assigned at birth.

As Mock explains in her conclusion: “When I think of identity, I think of our bodies and souls and the influences of family, culture and community—the ingredients that make us.” This epitomizes the strength of her story. Yes, she consists of outside influences and natural dispositions, but she is truly defined by her independent decision to live her truth—and to generously share it with others.

Mock is a contributing editor for Marie Claire and is the host of MSNBC’s weekly show “So POPular!”- check out its pilot episode here