23 March 2013

17 & Haunted

When I was 17, I was still haunted by the death of the first boy I ever slow danced with.

He had reddish brown hair, freckles, the biggest smile, and an even bigger temper. We'd been friends since he'd first arrived in my 6th grade classroom. We played wall ball every day at recess with a fierce kind of friendly competition. We ran through forests, chased by imaginary evils. We rode bikes along the river. We went to Outdoor School and learned about plants and stared up at the stars. We went to Dairy Queen after the spring Sock Hop. We had the exact same alarm clock. We went to our first junior high dance and held each other awkwardly as Phil Collins sang a song about a groovy kind of love. We talked about politics during lunch and I dreamed of the day he would run for president and I could be his first lady.

And then he was gone.

And no one understood how many pieces my 13 year old heart had broken into.

There is such a haunting loneliness that comes from experiencing any great heartache or great joy when you don't have someone to share it with, someone who genuinely gets it. At first I tried to talk to my dad, to friends, but they quickly moved on, not exactly understanding how deep the wound was. So rather than getting the stitches I needed, I got a band-aid instead. It was better than nothing, but it was not nearly enough.

Slowly though, the wound began to heal and the sharp and stinging pain subsided into a dull sort of ache until all that was left was a long scar, the reminder that something, that someone I loved, my very first true love, had been taken away from me.

It was hidden, buried under clothes, concealed from plain view, but I looked at it often, inviting the sadness to linger, refusing to forget.

I was afraid to get close to people and afraid to let people get close to me. I had friends who knew me, but didn't know me. I perfected the skills of dodging questions and ambiguous responses. I mastered the fine art of keeping my distance.

And every May 8th, I remembered everything.

When I was 17, on the anniversary of his death, I wrote Adam a letter in my journal. "Four years have come and gone since your life was taken away. I miss you. Sometimes I wonder what things would have been like if you had never died. Would I still think about you, remember you?"

Within a year of Adam's death I'd moved away. My father had remarried for the third time and even if Adam had still been alive, we wouldn't have gone to the same high school. It was likely we would have drifted apart from distance if for no other reason.

I knew in my head that it was time for me to give up his ghost. Next I had to convince my heart.

It didn't happen right away. It took a few persistent friends and falling in love before I was finally able to say goodbye. And even now, twenty some years later, there isn't a May 8th when I don't look up at the sky and whisper, "I still miss you Adam."

Adam's 6th Grade School Picture

March 21st, 2013 was the release day for Nova Ren Suma's amazing book 17 & Gone. I had the good fortune of reading a review copy last fall and it has haunted me since. This past week, to celebrate the book's birthday, Nova Ren Suma has been posting various YA writers talking about what haunted them when they were 17 and there have been some amazing posts. So far my favorites have been Nina La Cour's and Libba Bray's. Nova has invited others to write about what they were haunted by. This is what I wrote.

17 March 2013

Feeling Inspired

It's Sunday morning and the sun is rising over the clouds to fill up this room with its bright warmth. I lit a fire in my tiny fireplace, poured some french pressed coffee into my favorite mug, wrapped myself in a blanket, and sat down in my favorite chair to see what this day will bring.

I am inspired.

I am feeling invigorated after some time off, much of which was spent exploring familiar places in a new way and new places in a familiar sort of way. I walked along the ocean's edge with friends both real and imaginary.  I slept in a room inspired by a world created by Jules Verne and it was magical. I ate delicious food. I read books. (Eleanor & Park is as amazing as everyone has said it is.) I visited bookstores. I met writers. I wrote a new chapter!!!

Then I returned to work. It was a good, if not exhausting week. There was lots to do both professionally and personally. I saw my littlest (though hardly little) brother who was home for spring break. I got caught up with writerly friends I hadn't seen in far too long and I went to a really incredible book launch for the new YA fantasy/adventure Poison by Bridget Zinn.

Poison is her debut novel. Bridget Zinn died in 2011 from cancer. Laini Taylor shares a bit about Bridget and the book here. It was an amazing event, filled with really nice people, including Bridget's husband and her dad. I couldn't suppress the tears that emerged as Bridget's husband did the introduction and I didn't want to. I kept thinking about the experience through his eyes, wondering what it would be like to go through this book launch without her. Three local YA authors, Sara Ryan, April Henry, and Laini Taylor each read from the book. I can't wait to finish it on my own. (Sidenote: I want Laini Taylor to read all my bedtime stories!)

I've gotten to know Laini Taylor a bit over the last few months from working with her on her event/school visit and from seeing each other at events both in my store and at other stores. I had printed out a photo I took from her event last November where her ridiculously adorable daughter Clementine sat on her lap and made books for people out of Post-It Notes. When last night's event was over I debated whether or not I should give the picture to her and was seriously contemplating just leaving when the voice in my head reminded me that sometimes the best things happen just outside of our comfort zones.

That little voice was right. I went over and we had a great conversation about everything from the Veronica Mars Kickstarter (of which I am VERY excited about) to upcoming events and her planned hotel writing escape. She also told me a secret I am super excited about. Hopefully it will be made public soon! (Spoiler: It's not about her books or movie development.)  It was lovely to talk with her and she even gave me a hug! (The fangirl in me nearly fainted.)

Today I will spend some serious time working on finishing my book. It's time. I think I'm ready (though there is that part of me that is still scared like hell that I'm going to fail). But the truth is, these characters aren't going to let me go until I get their story right. And this past week they shared a few crucial details that I'd been missing. I'm hoping Holden & Jezebel's enthusiasm can see me through.

From the launch event for Bridget Zinn's book launch. Clockwise: Laini Taylor, Sara Ryan, Portland YA signed copy, and April Henry.

05 March 2013

It All Adds Up

If writing saved my life half the times it was up for grabs, music saved my life the other half. There are times I remember it felt like the only thing that could save me as the adults in my young life fought so loud there wasn't a number high enough on my Walkman to drown out the sounds that came before the cops did.

There were nights spent in the dark, buried beneath the covers, listening to the radio or a tape so well worn it was bound to break from all the love.

There were days I came home from school to an empty living room and I would fill it loud with the sounds of whatever was my current favorite.

When I was in college, sometimes I would spend hours at a time in the practice rooms of the music building playing the piano, pounding out whatever pains were poking at my heart.

Music has reminded me time after time that I am not alone in whatever sadness or whatever joy life has thrown at me. It has given me the courage to keep traveling until dawn.

Last week, after one particularly challenging morning at work, I was sitting in my office when I heard a familiar voice singing a song I had never heard. I immediately cranked up the volume of the overhead speaker and confirmed that it was Josh Ritter whose voice had found me. I didn't even know we had gotten his new album The Beast in its Tracks for in-store play, but my music manager knew that it was exactly what I needed to get me through the rest of the day.

The Beast in its Tracks is an album about many things. As Josh says, "It is an album that began in heart-break, but (for me!) it has come to stand for everything that happened after. I'm here, I'm alive, I love what I do."

One thing I've been reminded of time and time again, through books, through songs, through the best people in my life, is that we are not alone. We are all connected through our struggles and our triumphs. I have also been reminded that sometimes it's the seemingly insignificant gestures of kindness that can mean the most.

There's pain in whatever we stumble upon. If I never had met you, you couldn't have gone. But then I couldn't have met you. We couldn't have been. I guess it all adds up to joy in the end.
from Joy To You Baby by Josh Ritter

From an adventure that is a story in and of itself.