Slouching Toward Sanity: Part One

This is post one of a series on mental health.

About a month and a half ago, I checked myself into an inpatient psychiatric facility. This post is meant to begin a series on mental health and my recent experiences, but to be frank, I’m not sure where to begin. Do I start with my time in the hospital? Do I begin with the months leading up to that decision? Do I start with the suicide attempt five years ago that was a huge factor in deciding to voluntarily commit myself? Any one of those (or a few others) would be a perfectly reasonable starting point, but the choice of where to begin shapes the narrative. Please bear with me since this post (and the following ones) may jump around some as I grapple with my own story.

To begin with, I have always been terrified of psychiatric facilities. Their depiction in fiction is uniformly negative, whether you’re reading Sylvia Plath, the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or even light fantasy like Christopher Stasheff’s A Wizard in Bedlam. When I was a teenager and first (inaccurately) diagnosed with a mental illness, my parents struggled to figure out how to help. Many of their efforts were not in fact helpful, including threatening to commit me if I didn’t keep my symptoms in check.

But my mental health has suffered a lot in the last year and a half. For the past two and a half years, I’ve been struggling to cope while unmedicated and mostly without therapy or counseling of any kind, because the US healthcare system is a shambles. In January and February of this past year, things worsened dramatically. It was deeply frustrating because my external circumstances were better than they had been in years – I was working full-time at a job that I enjoyed and at which I felt useful, I was in a strong and positive relationship, I had a good support network, a solid living situation, and I was looking forward to getting a cat in the near future. Everything outside me was fine. The only problem was me.

Although I was functional at work, every morning on the drive home, conditions in my brain would gradually worsen. By the time I got home, I was a wreck. I got little sleep because I was up texting or messaging friends and my partner in an effort to keep from harming myself. January and February are always difficult for me, because it was around that time of year about five years ago that I wound up hospitalized for a suicide attempt.

What was most frightening to me was that both of my previous suicide attempts had been impulsive. I’d struggle for days or weeks or months, then wake up one morning and calmly go about trying to end my life. For two months of this year, I went to sleep terrified that I would wake up and act on the flashbacks and fantasies of suicide that constantly intruded on my thoughts.

Finally, one night I was up on the couch, sitting on my hands because I was overwhelmed with dread and I couldn’t take it anymore. I went into the bedroom, woke my partner, and begged him to hold my hand while I called a facility. To his credit, he didn’t hesitate. He held me while I called and set up an intake appointment. In the morning, he packed up all of the knives, pills, and chemicals in the apartment and took them with him so I would be safe during the two hours between him leaving for work and my friend coming to take me to the appointment.

I couldn’t get back to sleep. My friend came, and she held my hand (sometimes literally) through the entire intake process, from the initial interview through the wait to find out whether they had room, whether my insurance would cover hospitalization, whether I was acute enough to warrant hospitalization, up to the point where they took me away.

Writing those words, I’m reminded of a song my cousins used to sing when we were kids. “They’re coming to take me away, ha-ha, they’re coming to take me away. The nice young men in their clean white coats are coming to take me away.”

I was terrified all over again. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be locked in a room? Would I be forced to take medication I didn’t want? Would I be surrounded by people whose own illness would exacerbate my own? There’s so little representation of mental illness or associated treatment facilities in media, and so much of it is negative and inaccurate.

The big question was this: Would hospitalization make me better, or worse? Figuring that I didn’t have that much farther down to slide, I went.

Dismissing, Downplaying, Devaluing: Women’s Health and the Medical Establishment

I recently ran into this article discussing the way healthcare professionals (don’t) treat severe menstrual pain, and it seriously ticked me off. Not the article, the healthcare response. Or, more specifically, the complete lack of response from the medical establishment to a condition affecting millions of women.

The treatment options presented to women who do suffer from severe menstrual pain are laughable, and for many women, not even reasonable options. Take an Advil…unless you have a stomach ulcer or suffer from stomach bleeding, in which case Advil and other NSAIDS (like aspirin, Aleve, and Motrin) can be extremely dangerous. Take birth control continuously so you don’t get periods…unless that doesn’t help, or you’re on medication that interacts dangerously with hormonal birth control (like mood stabilizers), or you don’t want to be at increased risk for blood clots and breast cancer. Get a hysterectomy…IF your care provider will even consider it (most won’t without a life-threatening condition)…unless you don’t want to endure an invasive, life-altering procedure.

And it’s not just menstrual pain that goes un-treated or under-treated. Women suffering extreme pain are dismissed in the ER, are less-frequently prescribed pain medication, are misunderstood and misdiagnosed, and are told that their pain isn’t real. Nor is this unique to the US – the UK has been facing similar issues with their healthcare system. This is documented. Doctors don’t take women’s pain seriously. Research into conditions that primarily or only affect female-bodied people rarely receives funding. Much research into pain or into conditions that affect both men and women primarily or only focuses on male reactions or symptoms, even when female bodies consistently metabolize drugs differently or present different symptoms.

Why? Why do we ignore women? Why do we dismiss, downplay, and devalue women and their health and their pain? Institutionalized misogyny is one likely culprit. It’s not that individual doctors are sexist (though that does occur as well), but that the healthcare industry was founded on the assumption that it would primarily treat men. Consider, if you will, the fact that medicine has a very long history and has been practiced primarily by men and was for centuries practiced in societies where women were not fully considered people but rather the property of the men in their lives. Because of social beliefs about the exaggerated emotionality and unreliability of women, input from female patients on their own conditions and treatment was (and obviously still is) considered of limited importance. This shows up most dramatically when looking at treatment of pain because pain is almost entirely subjective and self-reported, so the physician’s opinion of you and the reliability of your narrative determines whether you will be taken seriously and, all too often, whether you will even get a correct diagnosis.

When I was first attending college, I spent a week suffering severe pain in the area of my ovaries. I could not stand up straight and hobbled around my apartment. I felt nauseous and sometimes weak from the pain. When I described the sensation to my male friends, they told me that it sounded like what it feels like to have just been kicked very hard in the testicles, only it didn’t fade. It stayed for days. Because I’d been taught to “work through” pain, and because I am uncomfortable dealing with doctors, I put off seeking medical attention until a friend tricked me into going to the local urgent care. The nurse who saw me pressed on the area where I was experiencing pain. My vision went bright white; I was in such pain that I saw nothing for a few seconds and could hear nothing through the roaring in my ears. I don’t know if I cried out; I couldn’t have heard it if I did. She was unimpressed, scheduled an ultrasound for me a few days later, and sent me home.

I was very lucky; my pain diminished on its own. The ultrasound turned up nothing. I learned nothing about what might have caused my pain, or why it went away, or how it could be prevented in the future. But I did learn that when my pain was connected to my female anatomy, I should not expect to be taken seriously by the people whose job it is to take such things seriously. I was not successful in obtaining medical care, but medical care was successful in silencing me.

Beyonce, anti-racism, and the Superbowl

I don’t care much about the Superbowl; that’s always been my mother’s thing, not mine. But I grew curious about the halftime show after running across multiple articles discussing Beyonce and race, in particular one from my home state discussing the history of the Portland, Oregon chapter of the Black Panthers.

Beyonce’s performance didn’t distress me. It made me feel hopeful. What distressed me were the deeply ignorant and racist comments I ran across – nothing new, just the same old BS about how racism only exists because black people x y or z; that we shouldn’t talk about race; that the Black Panthers were militant; that it was inappropriate to politicize an entertainment event like the Superbowl.

Let me be clear: I can see the homage to the Black Panthers in the attire worn by Beyonce and her dancers (also pop icon Michael Jackson). I do not feel threatened by this homage. I think her performance was a potentially powerful statement, and I was heartened by the way her song Formation celebrates traditionally black features and culture. Is it defiant? Yes. It is defiant because to be black and to be proud of one’s heritage, history, beauty, strength, culture in a society defined by white supremacy is to be defiant. It’s a defiance we need a lot more of.

Given the recent events surrounding white militia converging on federal reserve land in Oregon, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see parallels drawn between the Ammon Bundy crew (AKA “Y’all Qaeda” and “Vanilla Isis”) and the Black Panthers, parallels that valorized terrorism steeped in white privilege while villainizing black efforts to achieve equality. I suppose I wasn’t so much surprised as frustrated and weary. Ignorant whites remember the Black Panthers for their leather jackets, berets, and guns. They don’t remember the community building and community support – the free breakfasts given to impoverished schoolchildren, the free medical clinics, the efforts to police local communities and keep them safe not only from criminals but from the individuals who were supposed to keep them safe and who instead regularly dealt immeasurable harm.

To those who say, “It’s 2016! Racism is dead!” I say, “No.” Racism is not dead. It has never been dead. It has only shifted form, hidden itself in the workings of our cultural, political, social fabric. Don’t believe me?

Name five prominent black scientists, academics, or astronauts. Name five successful black politicians. Name five nationally recognized black reporters or journalists. Name five black visual artists. Name five black directors. How many of the doctors or dentists you’ve seen in your life have been black (or Hispanic, or Native)?

Now name five widely-known musicians, five famous black athletes, five famous actors. It’s not that there aren’t brilliant and talented black individuals. It’s that most brilliant black youth are pushed into a handful of socially accepted careers, almost all of which involve entertaining predominantly white audiences. All too often, it takes great strength of character, profound determination, and often a truly striking talent for a black individual to achieve success in non-entertainment fields (which is absolutely not to say that successful individuals in entertainment/sports don’t possess these traits). That combination of abilities and character traits gives us people like Martin Luther King, JR, bell hooks, and Neil Degrasse Tyson, who are or were extremely remarkable human beings. I, for one, feel honored to live in a time where I can benefit from their brilliance…but how much are we losing out on because of the vast minefield of barriers facing black scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, politicians, journalists, artists, poets, thinkers, doers, movers and shakers?

That’s white supremacy. In the long run, it doesn’t benefit anyone. It hurts black individuals and communities directly, by inflicting deep wounds and trauma likened by the DSM-V to the PTSD we’ve only just begun to acknowledge in our troops. But it also hurts the entire fabric of society by stifling countless potential intellectuals, innovators, doctors, creators, and leaders, denying us all the advancements they could have helped us make.

So I’ll cheer when Beyonce tells us that she loves afros, Negro noses with Jackson Five nostrils, and all the long history and features of a proud, strong community that has endured through centuries of brutality and oppression. I’ll cheer because I hope someday that will be an unremarkable and uncontroversial claim to make. I’ll cheer because I want a world where that culture, that history, those features, are celebrated freely by everyone. I’ll cheer because I want a world where nobody has to deny or decry their connection to that history, or culture, or feel shame for those features, where black individuals and communities have every opportunity to thrive.

I’ll cheer because hearing someone like Beyonce celebrate her people is a rare moment of fierce joy in a sea of frustration and despair born from white supremacy.

On Solitude

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really know how to be alone.

Let me take a step back. One of the lovely linguistic aspects of English is that it has separate words for positive aloneness (solitude) and negative aloneness (loneliness). Yet US society doesn’t particularly promote being alone; our heteronormative structures presume that people want not to be alone and we are encouraged to find someone to partner with, whether or not that is in fact what makes us happy.

Don’t take this the wrong way – I understand that humans are social creatures, that we are in fact wired to interact with and desire closeness with others. That’s fine. But we all (or most of us) also experience sensory overload at times, or for other reasons desire to withdraw and engage in solitude. That’s also fine, but it’s not encouraged.

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time playing or reading alone. This was understandable; there were no other kids my age living in our immediate vicinity, and all of my relatives in my generation were younger (except for one, who lived too far away to see often). I was perfectly content to spend hours alone. By contrast, my little brother was much more gregarious – we had nearby cousins who were the same age, and there were other kids on our block that he was friends with. He often pestered me to play with him – Matchbox cars, legos, video games, stick fighting outside (the last one got nixed fairly early on by our mother after I accidentally whacked him in the fingers one too many times). Sometimes I acceded, but I was frequently annoyed by these requests – couldn’t he see that I was alone, and happy to be alone, and didn’t need or want his company? It’s not that I didn’t love my brother – I did, and still do – but that I was accustomed to solitude, which I perceived him as intruding upon.

Now, I’m realizing that aside from one month spent house/dog-sitting for my favorite professor and his wife while they taught a January class in Italy, I’ve never lived alone. Even when I was doing my study abroad in Mexico, I lived with a host family (though my room and bathroom were in a small detached building at the back of the house. That was pretty awesome); all the rest of my life has been spent living with family, friends, roommates, or lovers. Even as I write this, I’m sharing an apartment with a former classmate and spending most of my time at my partner’s place. But with both roommate and partner out of town, I’m alone.

I’m not lonely. I’m comfortable and largely content – I’m keeping busy doing laundry and reading academic works about game studies in preparation for revising my Master’s thesis for publication according to peer review feedback.  And posting here because my brain needs a break from ludology and social constructionism, no matter how fascinating and relevant they are.

I’m not lonely, but I’m also not sure what to do with myself when there’s no one around to distract, amuse, or comfort me. When I take a break, there’s no one for me to hug or pester or cook for. No one is gently (or not-so-gently) reminding me to eat, or to calm the fuck down because breaking my roommate’s sugar jar isn’t the end of the world even though the broken parts of my brain insist that it is.

There’s just me.

And that’s really lovely, and a little bit confusing, and I realize that it’s confusing primarily because it’s been so damn rare in my life, especially in the last ten years or so. The last person I lived with never left home except for work and (grudgingly) for necessary errands; we divided up chores at one point such that I did all the grocery-shopping so he had one less reason to go out. His constant presence (the actual relationship was on-and-off romantic, so we shared a one-bedroom apartment) grew to wear on me and eventually aggravated my anxiety quite badly, not least due to what I’ve only recently admitted was psychologically abusive behaviors.

But I’m alone right now, and I like it but I’m not sure what to do with it. There hasn’t been much point to this, except that I’m realizing that my life needs more of this, even though I’m unlikely to get it much in the next few months, and I’m starting to understand that although it’s a little inconvenient at times, I really do appreciate it.

And that, in itself, is kind of a wonderful thing.

Ethics of an Atheist

I’ve gotten this question a couple of times, and seen it talked about even more times, so I know that I’m not alone here. “If you’re an atheist, where do your ethics/morals come from?” None of the religious folks in my life are so crass as to ask that of me directly, or to assert that atheism and morality are mutually exclusive, but I’ve been doing some thinking lately and I wanted to set down my personal moral code so that folks could tell me what they thought of it.

The gist of it is really simple and based on a fantastic essay analyzing various non-theistic views of morality (tracked it down! it’s over here) that boils down to the following: “Always minimize both actual and potential suffering; always maximize both actual and potential happiness.” Doing things in that order tends to work fairly well. First, you work to combat suffering and the conditions which produce suffering – that’s the first priority. Then, you get to work on increasing happiness – doing things in that order means that you can work against the tendency to forget about marginalized people.

But that’s really just a teaser. It works fairly well on its own, but it’s a principle, not a guidebook. It doesn’t talk about why it’s important to do things that way, so the rest of this post will focus on the why and the how.

To begin with, my morality comes from a deep-seated recognition of the flaws in this world. People are suffering. Other people (myself included) do little or nothing to help. People get sick, lose everything, starve, are wounded in body and mind, die. Material conditions lock entire groups of people into an endless loop of suffering and strangled potential, and the folks with the power to change those conditions are too concerned with their own achievement and happiness to do a damn thing about it.

That’s a shitty world. For all the wonder and beauty and joy that I can find in it, it’s a shitty world. My own happiness is as nothing compared to others’ pain. This doesn’t mean I should reject my happiness – that also does nothing to help others – but rather that I should recognize my well-being as existing in an interconnected world and that I cannot and should not pursue it at the cost of others’ well-being.

I choose to interact with the world based on two very simple questions that I ask myself anytime I am making a choice, no matter how seemingly insignificant: What world do I want to see? Does this action contribute to producing that world?

Of course, this begs the question – how do I know that the world I want to see is actually a better world? What do I mean by a better world, and who gets to make that determination? There is no version of our world that everyone can agree on is the best possible version. But if I get mired in relativist morality, I’ll just get paralyzed and not improve anything. That’s hardly productive.

So the first step in this process is to practice three things: understanding, empathy, and action. I have to carefully observe the world so that I can understand conditions as they are before I can ever try to change them, or I won’t accomplish anything. I have to understand also that no matter how carefully I go about this, I will only ever be able to comprehend the world from my own limited perspective and experience, so it’s essential that I cultivate empathy so that I am open to the experiences and needs of others. And I also have to grasp that neither understanding nor empathy will ever be enough on their own – I have to do something with them or all I’ve done is set up a situation where I can pat myself on the back for seeing things clearly.

Understand the world. Empathize with others, especially those different from you. Act on your knowledge.

Practice honesty and tact together – lies can do their own harm, but honesty that isn’t tempered with compassion can be just as counterproductive. Think and feel in tandem – too much detachment makes it possible to reduce other humans to numbers, but too much involvement makes it difficult to accomplish anything significant. Feel an injustice and plan out how to deal with it. Don’t settle for being nice, because nice is often a veneer that quickly breaks down, and being nice to someone you pass on the sidewalk or see at work does nothing to combat the problems that are bigger than either of you. Niceness won’t solve the structural inequalities that plague the world.

This is why I hate capitalism, and the doctrine of individual achievement. The suffering of human beings should never, ever take a backseat to the bottom line. My achievements, and those of everyone else in the world, owe a great deal to the work of others – teachers, bus drivers, mentors, parents and guardians, the people who pave roads and grow food – many of whom are themselves weighed down, harmed, or limited by the very structures that enabled my success. These people matter just as much as I do, as anyone does. Why should it be acceptable for many to suffer so that a few can achieve? Why should it even be acceptable for a few to suffer so that many can achieve?

Start with this: The world sucks for a lot of people. It doesn’t have to. People created the circumstances that lead to suffering; people can change those circumstances. I am people. You are people. We have to think, care, and act to have an impact. We have to understand the interconnectedness of things, including but not limited to racism, classism, sexism, ableism, heteronormativity. We have to care, passionately, about changing the world so that it sucks less. We have to step up and do something – find things that fit with your skills, your abilities, your passions, your hopes, your limitations. Do them.

Minimize suffering. Maximize happiness. Do it in that order.

That’s what an atheist ethics looks like.

Mirror, Mirror: Core Commitments

So today in class we discussed our “core commitments,” the reasons we do what we do, the things that drive our aspirations. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially as I grow weary and exhausted and my brain chemistry falls out of whack, leaving me struggling even to cope with everyday things like bus rides and making dinner.

The biggest reason I do what I do is because when I look at the world, I see how terrible it is. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of beautiful and wondrous things. It’s not a hundred percent crapsack. But there’s a lot that’s pretty fucked up. Murder, torture, all manner of abuses physical and emotional, overt and subtle. The widescale destruction of a planet. Dishonesty and uncertainty and confusion and fear. Systems that oppress and harm and hold down groups of people simply because they have the misfortune to be born or to grow into people different from those holding power.

I grew up on fantasy and sci-fi novels. The kind where the evil or the misguided can be overcome, can be vanquished. Where heroic acts result in visible, measurable change. Sometimes that change comes at great and tragic cost, but it’s always something you can see and feel within the world being described. It’s not just that there’s a clearly defined good and evil, because there isn’t always; the important thing in sci-fi and fantasy is that the effects of actions are rendered visible. None of this working and working and working and never knowing what will come of all your efforts, if indeed anything comes at all.

The real world isn’t like that. It’s full of things that need to be fixed or changed. But sometimes all the effort in the world isn’t enough; unlike a fictional problem where the issue has a face, a person that can be vanquished, a disease that can be cured, a time limit that can be met, it’s not that easy to save our world. It’s too complex, too diffuse.

Sometimes I wish that I was a warrior. Sometimes I wish that I was confident and fully sane, that I could do big things with visible effects. Go into politics. Start a new school or university that values what I value, that doesn’t ostracize people with different ways of learning and knowing the world and expressing their knowledge. That I could raise large amounts of money to fund the work that I think needs doing. That I could dismantle capitalism in one fell swoop and institute a form of governance and economy that would nurture human rather than monetary resource, that would value the things I value.

But I don’t live in that world. I am not that person. I can’t stop seeing what’s wrong with the world or with me. I want to become a teacher, a mentor, a researcher, a knower and a doer, but I don’t feel like I have in me what it takes to do those things on a large scale, only a small one. I’m not the lone hero with a magic sword or a special gift. I’m not part of the Fellowship, traveling through untold dangers to save the world through the strength of the mortal bonds we forge together. I’m not even Gandalf, wise and powerful and full of hidden knowledge, or even yet Tom Bombadil, bound to the land with riddles and love.

I think what I can be is Old Ben Kenobi. I can be the quiet, strange person in the desert, the one who’s worked hard to know what I know and has struggled to survive so that my understanding can be passed on to the people who will move the foundations of the earth to change it for the better. I’m not really a leader; I don’t walk into a group of people and want to be in charge. I don’t like being the person responsible for big decisions. That sort of thing intimidates and frightens me.

Nor am I a follower, not really. I won’t take direction without a good reason, not unless I really truly trust the person giving orders. I don’t need someone to tell me what to do (at least, not all the time), I just don’t want to be the person doing the telling and bearing the burden. I sometimes describe myself as a beta, because that’s terminology familiar to the people I spend my social time around.

Now that I really consider it, though, I think that’s almost but not quite exactly right. I don’t want to stand entirely alone, to lead, or to follow. I’m at my best when I can advise and support, when I can tell the truth to power without holding the power myself. When I can instruct and provide guidance, can get my hands dirty, but not out in front. I don’t want attention. I want things to get done, and done well; I don’t need to be the one doing them, but I can’t sit back and pretend that it’s not my responsibility to do them every bit as much as it is the next person’s.

The most powerful thing that any of my students from the prison said to me was that I treated them like people. I made them feel valued. I helped them see that they had meaningful things to say, because I listened like they and their words mattered. That wasn’t something I did because I should do it. It was something I did because I believed it. I felt it. It’s not really the kind of thing you can fake, not for long. I put on a good show sometimes of being bitter and cynical, and sometimes I really am, but mostly it hides how very much I care.

I care about my students – both my debaters and the ones I’ve had in a classroom. I care about the people I don’t even know who are suffering. I don’t know what I can do to alleviate their suffering directly; I mean, I know some things that can be done, but a lot of them are things that I’m not equipped to do. What I can do, and (if the past few years are anything to go by) do well, is teach the way I’ve been taught. With care, with respect, with honesty. I can show students that they can contribute to a better world because it’s something I believe. I can make research that people outside of academic institutions can read, or watch, or participate in, or use. Even if I never get into a PhD program, even if I never teach at a prestigious university, I can do those things. Even if I only teach as a volunteer, even if I have to do the research in bits and pieces or have to try and find or start an organization to house it, these are things I can do in a variety of contexts.

This is my passion. My fundamental belief. My core commitment. The world isn’t a very good place, but it can be a better one. It will take people, many people, to make that happen. And I can be one of the people behind that change. I can support and guide and believe in the people changing the world. I can show them their strength and their potential, help them build the tools they need, and quietly, incrementally, make the world better. I can write that paper, read that book, go to that class, give that presentation, sit through that meeting, because those are all steps along this path.

And this is a path that needs to be walked.

The Red Couch: Musings on The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Today was not the best day.

Allow me to be precise. There was nothing wrong with today. Nobody (in my immediate circle) died. There was no breakup. I went to work and was productive; went to the library and was productive; came home a little tired and hungry but prepared to be productive.

The world was fine. I was not.

There were no explosions. There was nothing dramatic. This post is not a complaint. But all was not well with me; I was feeling lonely and disaffected and discouraged and a little overwhelmed. I’ve probably taken on too much responsibility and too many projects again. It’s nothing new. I always find a way to deal with it. But today I wasn’t; today I was feeling isolated and, not broken, but a little bit bent out of true.

And then I saw the Slow Regard of Silent Things on my bookshelf, waiting. Patient. I was about a third of the way through and had set it aside because it isn’t a book to read while distracted, and because I did not want to finish. I wanted to savor it. So it was still there. Waiting.

I took it down and read it while I ate my dinner/snack. And I nearly wept because it was lovely and sweet and a little bit tinged with sorrow. As Pat says, and as many reviews concur, it is not a book for everyone. But tonight it was a book for me.

Of course, since I am in the habit of asking “why?” of everything, I began to think about why that was. And I realized it was in part because of what Pat describes in the Author’s Endnote: it’s a book about a girl who is slightly broken, and it speaks to the many, many of us who are slightly broken in a similar fashion, and who know it, and who feel alone because of it, in whole or in part.

But more than that, I love it because it is exactly what it is. It is what it says.

When I was first introduced to creative writing and began taking it seriously, I was in seventh grade, and I heard for the first time the maxim Show, Don’t Tell. And this book does that. It shows Auri’s loveliness and her sweetness and her fragility. I can relate to that.

But while a good story shows rather than telling, a great story goes one step further. It doesn’t just show what you are supposed to understand. It lets itself be what you are supposed to understand. With word choice, with sentence structure, with every rhythm and moment, it goes beyond telling, beyond showing, into being. This story doesn’t tell us that Auri is sweet and lovely and a little bit broken. It doesn’t just show her to us, though it does do that. The story itself is sweet and lovely and a little bit broken, just as Kvothe’s story is arrogant and clever and daring and tragic.

It takes more than skill for an author to write a story like this. It takes seeing and being both. Anyone who takes a little time can see. But being…being needs more than that. For a story to be what it is in addition to showing what it is, the author has to feel it, not just on the surface where the mind works, but under that. In the bones.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things sees, and feels, and when I feel along with it, together we be.


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