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Dear Mental Illness: We’re all in this together

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CW: mental illness, suicidal ideation

To: “Depression” (depresh_daddy@hotmail.com), “Anxiety” (worrycutie69@gmail.com), “C-PTSD” (fyte_n_flyte@yahoo.com)

From: Jenny Trout (formerhumandistaster@jennytrout.com)

Subject: What team? WILDCATS

Dear mental illnesses. As you may have gleaned from the subject line, I come to you with a proposal of teamwork. We’re all in this together. You’re the Troy to my Gabriella, the Ryan to my Sharpay. Actually, the everyone to my Sharpay. The important part is, I’m Sharpay at the denouement of every HSM story after she realizes yet again that being a team player is better for everyone and we all help each other to be stars. And that’s why we’re all going to do that from now on.

Depression? I totally understand where you’re coming from. You’re right; somedays, it’s just too overwhelming to get out of bed. And you’re trying to do the right thing by me in supporting, nay, encouraging me to take a break. But sometimes, you want that to be a forever break. And that doesn’t work for me. I know you think you’re helping when you suggest that wading into freezing lake water with my pockets full of stones might be an easy way to get some time off. And I know a lot of the time, this is an idea you’ve already brainstormed with C-PTSD. But the advice you two are coming up with? Really not working for me. Imagine if I really did drive my car off a bridge. What if I lived? Can you imagine the bullshit hassle? First would be the hospital stays, then the hospital bills, probably some surgery, some in-patient psychiatric supervision, and then when that’s all over you’ve got to fight with two different types of insurance, it would be a nightmare. By the way, Anxiety is really good at extrapolating things out that way. I’m sure that if you just consulted with it, you’d see the downside to this plan, and the other plan, which is the one where I neglect bills, notices, important mail, my children, my pets, my friends, my hygiene, basically I just cancel whatever is going on that day to stay in bed, Google all the reasons people hate me, and just leave Big Mouth running on a constant loop in the background until Depression Kitty shows up and I momentarily pay attention so I can chuckle with wry humor at how same and a mood it makes me feel, without ever acknowledging that I shouldn’t take pleasure in the fact that everyone in society is fucking miserable all the time, always, forever, isn’t the helpful shuffling around of my schedule as you think it is.

But Anxiety, while I appreciate how you constantly motivate me to be and do better, I think we can find a better way of doing that. Maybe a pep talk that doesn’t start with me getting up to refill my water bottle and ends with my entire family being homeless because of that minute-long break. You definitely shouldn’t be sharing my biggest fears with Depression; it has absolutely zero productive ways to use them. What generally happens, I imagine, is that you see me not working and you think, well, she’s never going to get back to it. And if she doesn’t get back to it, she’ll be another day behind. And if she gets too far behind, we’ll be homeless and probably dead and eaten by rats in an alley. I guess I can see where that might be a concern. After all, my failure to manage our life is the reason we almost were homeless. And admittedly, there are two rats in my office. But I think the more important point we need to focus on here is that those rats are in a cage. They’re probably not going to eat us. Also? People probably do think I’m lazy. But remember: what other people think of us? Is not the end of the world. We have to keep on keeping on. Remember how we started taking those pills and OCD decided to go on hiatus? Consider sucking up some of those brain-altering pharmaceuticals, yourself.

Now, C-PTSD. You and I have a lot of work to undo. ABA ruined what should have been a perfectly awesome brain. But you and I have to be on the same page here. Having my own emotions isn’t actually inconveniencing or hurting anyone, just so long as my actions aren’t inconveniencing or hurting anyone. I’m also allowed to set boundaries. I shouldn’t be grateful that my friends and family love me despite all the shitty things about me. I should be grateful that my friends and family love me and recognize all the cool things about me. And nobody is trying to kill us. Nobody will reject us if secretly, in the quiet of our mind, we let ourselves be mad or sad or uncomfortable. And that touch of the ’tism that ABA was supposed to fix? It’s not the burden to everyone around you that you think it is. Like, 70% of all the people you choose to hang out with are also “on the spectrum.” Look, we deserve to not be victimized by weird childhood traumas we couldn’t express because bad therapy trained us to pretend we were fine with everything all the time and that if we weren’t fine with it, that was selfish of us. I promise, hand-to-god, that we do not have to be constantly tense and ready to defend ourselves or flee from imaginary dangers like someone coming to the door. Yes, they might be pushy. Yes, you might have to assert yourself in a way that might feel rude to them. I promise, they don’t know we’re broken and also, we’re not responsible for how they feel when we don’t want to go to their church. Oh, and PS. expressing our anger at Papa in the one whole argument we ever got into his whole life? Didn’t kill him. Time and Russian-level alcohol consumption did that. We’re not to blame, no matter how much our perception of how our emotions damage other people insist otherwise.

You guys. We’ve got this. We can be a team. Imagine how much time off you’re going to get once you’re not constantly bombarding me with all this helpful advice. Look how much better we feel now that we’re letting go of some masking behaviors. Imagine if all of us could just kick back, put our feet up, and function? I know we can get there.

Sincerely,
Jenny, the brain you ride around in.

I Love This Book

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My Kindle with the cover of Take Me Home by Scarlett Parrish displayed. The cover shows a slightly out-of-focus couple kissing. The kindle is lying on a tartan background.

Ahhhh. You know that feeling when you read a book and you’re like, this book was written specifically for me?

Full disclosure: This book actually was written specifically for me. Knowing how much I crush on late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson, Scarlett Parrish set out to write me a dirty story that for weeks was simply titled Fergporn. I waited patiently as she sent me maddening updates, all the while promising that she was nearly done. But the god damn thing kept getting longer. What started out as a novella with a target of 40k words about a comedian banging his ex during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival grew and grew and grew…into an incredibly touching and tragic story about what-ifs and could-have-beens.

Please excuse the really ridiculous gushing you’re about to read here. I am not going to give you an objective review at all. I’m just going to projectile vomit my feelings at you and those feelings are achingly bittersweet and shockingly horny.

Afton Collier is a recently divorced actress who’s returned to her beloved home city, Edinburgh, to nurse her broken heart. Unfortunately, it’s also the city where her heart first got broken in a toxic relationship with Glenn Peterson, who’s moved on to become a talk show host in America. Twenty years after Glenn—”Oosh,” as Afton remembers him not so fondly from their drugs-and-sex fueled past—disappeared from her life without a word, he returns to Edinburgh to perform a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For reasons Afton refuses to truthfully acknowledge to herself, she invites him to stay at her in the apartment she views as a palace of her marital failures.

Now, this whole set up could easily have turned into a “and there was only one bed!” situation. It also could have fallen into the trap of “oh my god, just talk to each other!” due to the internal nature of their conflict. Instead, the abrupt, unresolved ending to their romantic relationship and their two decades of keeping tabs on each other from afar makes you fully sympathize with Afton’s inability to disclose the painful aftermath of Glenn’s departure from her life.

So, those paragraphs alone should have sold you, right?

Wait. There’s more.

Afton Collier shares her author’s proud love of Embra and its history, which winds in and out of Afton and Glenn’s personal history like a parallel love story. From memories of Oosh quoting the Burns poem for which Afton was named, to the stark reality of managing recovery in a culture proud of their alcohol consumption. The land that comforts Afton is part of what drove Glenn away; you feel the pull between her love of her homeland and her resentment toward Glenn for leaving without her.

As a first-person POV heroine, Afton wrestles not only with the abrupt end to her marriage but also the unresolved issues that have kept Glenn on her mind for years. One of these (mild spoiler ahead) is the abortion she had at age nineteen, after Glenn, then thirty, fled to America. Afton’s feelings about the pregnancy she ended are complex; though she knows she made the right choice and doesn’t regret it, she does regret that she had to make the choice at all. I’ve never seen a romance novel present abortion in such a nuanced way, where the heroine is allowed to be relieved and fully comfortable with having an abortion while still wishing the circumstances could have given her another choice.

Glenn is everything I love in a romance novel hero. Not just because I have a thing for Scottish late-night hosts, but because I have a thing for damaged men who struggle with their own vulnerability. Glenn knows what he did to Afton is unforgivable; he spends as much time apologizing to her for the past as he does putting his foot in his mouth in the present. His tendency to be “on” instead of genuine is painfully relatable, especially when it fails him.

Now, let’s discuss the sex. This is a book about a heroine who’s nearly forty and a hero who’s almost fifty. They’ve had active sex lives and aren’t shy with each other once they decide to act on their rekindled attraction. Their chemistry and banter outside the bedroom made the easy reconnection of their intimacy completely natural and a heartbreakingly sweet contrast to the emotional intimacy left unresolved for decades.

The longing and the angst and the relatable drama pulled from realistic circumstances despite the fame and notoriety of main characters working in a highly visible industry makes Take Me Home not just the best romance novel of 2020, but possibly the best I’ve read in my life.

Take Me Home by Scarlett Parrish is available in e-book on AmazonBarnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

A stone etched with the quote, "Alone amongst the mountains a man can have dignity. -Marak"

Annual Hiatus Times!

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Everybody is like, “Annual?” But this is my official, planned, not due to any sort of terrible circumstance or mental or physical health issue hiatus. I’m taking two weeks off this time around because this is usually a busy and overwhelming time for me trying to get everything around for my trip and spend time with my kids before I leave, etc. This year, even more so because *gestures to 2020 calendar*. So, to make sure I’m not burned out before I head up there and as a result, HOPEFULLY FINISH MY FREAKING BOOK. I’m gonna sit on my couch, take allergy meds, and wait out the crushing anxiety of knowing I have to leave my house in four days.

Stay safe, stay awesome, be excellent to each other, and I’ll be back after the 28th.

What the hell is that about?!

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Read the title of this post again, but do it the way Nathan Lane says it in The Producers during “Betrayed.”

If you haven’t seen Nathan Lane in The Producers you definitely should. He’s amazing.

Also, one time I saw him getting into his car and I yelled, “Yay, you’re awesome!” and he for real did not want to be recognized and just before he closed the door he said to his driver, “Let’s go, let’s go,” and I was like, yes. This is a moment I will treasure forever.

And I do to this very day.

Anyway, I had the absolute most fucked up dream I’ve ever had in my life. This is where I put the CW: Suicide but it’s like, more about the weirdness of the dream, I guess? Just heads up.

I know how much everyone wants to listen to other people describing their dreams for no apparent reason, so let’s dive on in.

The dream took place in a lot of different locations in what I consider the “Jenny’s Dreams Cinematic Universe.” There are common places in my dreams that I visit more than once and I’m familiar with all of them. A haunted house. A maze of country dirt roads. A blend of New York and Grand Rapids that has the Mackinac Bridge in it for some reason. My old high school. A mall. There’s even a baseball stadium and an amusement park, a lake, both sets of grandparents’ houses, my childhood house, a cemetery, it’s just this elaborate dream world and my dreams sometimes take place in it. But ever since we’ve been quarantined, I haven’t been able to leave these dream locations. And I’ve been bizarrely half-lucid in almost all of them.

It’s getting pretty fucking boring.

So boring that my dream self has become suicidally depressed.

I spent last night’s dream visiting these various dream locations and telling the people I met there that I wanted to kill myself. Or I’d make a grim little joke about killing myself. And nobody cared. And it didn’t bother me that they didn’t care until I woke up and went, “What the hell is that about?!”

First of all, there’s no need for concern. My dream is not going to come true. I know there are a lot of situations where that phrase applies in the history of my life but trust me, this time it’s not prophecy. Because I woke up like, damn. Dream me has it fucking rough. She is in bad shape.

Meanwhile, real me is killing it. I edited an entire manuscript in a day. I can watch the news without falling entirely apart. I’ve taken breaks to watch TV shows, not just playing them in the background while I try to concentrate on something else. Seriously, what is happening to dream me?

Another aspect of the dream last night concerned my annual writing retreat. I know I explain it every year but over-explaining is something of a talent of mine so just ride it out if you already know what I’m talking about. Every year, a group we refer to as the “Ladies of the Lake” converge in Gay, Michigan, to stay in a cabin with little-to-no cell signal, no wifi, no phone, and most importantly, no people. We spend the time writing and enjoying each other’s company and despite the insistence of Mr. Jen, “lesbian shit” has yet to occur but hope springs eternal. Because our governor eased regulations, we will be making the trip this year after all, with some changes like quarantining ourselves before and after travel, not going to any restaurants or stores in the U.P., bringing masks and hand sanitizer for when we have to stop for gas or potty, all that end-of-the-world, fleeing-civilization jazz. Usually, I can get some pretty serious writing done up there. The past two years? Ehhhhh not so much. But there have been times I’ve written 10k to 20k words per day up there.

Okay, the time I did 20k I got a tension headache and I had to go to the hospital.

Plus, there are only going to be three of us this time, rather than six, so even less distraction, unless it turns out that five other people are needed to supervise me. In which case, we never make this mistake again.

Anyway, I dreamed that we were on the retreat, which is now ten days away. And I’m freaking out because suddenly I realize that it is Thursday of our Saturday-to-Saturday retreat and I haven’t written a single word.

I woke up sweating. Chills racing all over my body.

We have reached the point in 2020 where I’m having suicidal stress dreams about things I look forward to and enjoy doing.

I went to the shower. I doubled over. I shouted at the top of my lungs:

“OH MY GOD NEXT MONTH I’M GONNA BE FORTY!”

What I guess this post is saying is, my birthday panic comes earlier every year. Death stands behind me. Owls are starting to seem suspicious to me. I don’t know how to use my TV. Immortality beckons.

That’s it. There’s not really any wrap up here but a couple people told me I should post whatever I want and I did and now you’re all suffering for it. But I’m seriously considering consulting a therapist in my dreams.

What is there to say?

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There are different types of silence at a moment like this. The conspicuous silence of people who care more about being marketable than being “political”. The forced silence of those who want to do the right thing but are frozen with the fear of what could happen to them in their homes and their communities. And then there’s the stunned kind of silence, the silence of the helpless, of people who don’t know what to say or do because the thought of a solution to the problem only just occurred to them.

I’ve spent the last two weeks doing more circulating of Black voices than that of my own. I’m white. I don’t know shit and it’s very difficult to run to Twitter and talk about writing or Chinese television or funny things my kid has said when my country stands on the precipice of a revolution none of us are emotionally prepared for. Weeks of fear and isolation in a near-nationwide quarantine has sapped us of our energy and mental health but the moment is now. We’re watching scenes from major cities that look more like what the United States warns us about in other countries. Insurrections happen over there. Where? It doesn’t matter. Just not here. Certainly, the President of the United States would never have to cower in fear from his own people, in a bunker constructed for a worst-case scenario. And if that happens, what should we do, as proud, free Americans? Vote, of course!

Vote! Vote in a system controlled by the very people who benefit most from it! Vote, because if you’re lucky, yours will be one that counts. Probably not, but you’ll never know until you try! The system has been stacked unfairly against Black voters in an effort to protect white supremacy. Of course, people are fighting back. Why wouldn’t they? No ordinary citizen truly has a say in what happens to them, to their lives, to their property, to their liberty. A whim and a phone call pitted the United States military against the citizens who allegedly control this democracy. A whim and a pen stroke could return the country to slavery and internment. All while the people we were encouraged to vote for sit back, wring their hands, and pretend they never had a hand in crafting the laws and policies that have broadened every gap, political, economic, and racial between Black people and white people.

There’s another kind of silence: the one where you know that your rage and your heartbreak are not central to an issue. Where you’re quiet because you know your voice isn’t necessarily helpful. The one where you fret that you’re not doing enough, out of fear of doing too much and causing harm. The fear of burdening an already suffering people with well-intentioned nonsense. A fear that comes from the desire to do good but also a desire to look good. I don’t want to succumb to that. I don’t think anyone wants to do that.

Rather than try to express my own feelings on the recent slayings and the brazen, homicidal lawlessness of police everywhere now that they’ve been set off their leashes, I’m going to keep RTing Black voices and smarter people than me over on Twitter, where I have more of a reach. And I’m going to give you, the rest of Trout Nation, the choice of how the blog moves forward from here. It feels very much like the days after 9/11; when are we allowed to do normal things again, without diminishing the hell we’re in? How much distraction is okay before it lulls us back into a state of submission? Do you want to see updates here or would you feel wrong about it? Would it serve as a temporary respite from the new or would it hurt or seem as though I’m pushing the importance of this time to the backburner? How do I go forward here without making it seem like I’m trying to nudge everything back to “normal”? I would feel guilty wondering about these questions but they’re near-universal among creatives of all races right now. Aside from white supremacists and privileged white anarchists, nobody wants to steal focus from the war being waged against justice in the streets nightly. Nobody in America knows how to live with the open acknowledgment that we are a broken nation and have been since July 4, 1776. Even for the people who’ve known this, having it in the air all around, the topic of every conversation in a year when an entire country burned, a pandemic swept the globe, and our president was impeached is a surreal experience. And the year isn’t even half over.

I’m stuck in the “please control your white rage, Jenny, this is not about you and your seemingly racially-inherent, socially conditioned inability to see any solution beyond violence” type of silence. I’m angry. My desire to express that anger doesn’t help. It’s just not constructive for white people to be angry because we’re the ones who did this. And I don’t know how to fix it. What I do know is that Black Lives Matter, Black people matter, Blackness matters. The system must be taken apart and reassembled from the ground up. And the work should ultimately be the responsibility of the white people who caused the problem. But again, I’m one of those white people and let me tell you: we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing because we’re still routinely surprised by the police brutality that we willfully ignore.

Denial is a dangerous, dangerous weapon.

This is all exceptionally disjointed and grim. I’m aware. Consider yourselves lucky; I’m not as in love with stream of consciousness writing as I was in high school. But while I have exactly zero answers and nothing to add that hasn’t already been said better by someone with more life experience than mine, I want everyone here to know that Trout Nation isn’t a place for fascists. It isn’t a place for violence. And it’s a place where Black Lives Matter is not a political statement. It’s a statement of fact.

Jealous Haters Book Club: Crave introduction and Chapter 0, “If You’re Not Living on the Edge, You’re Taking Up Too Much Space”/Chapter 1, “Landing Is Just Throwing Yourself at the Ground and Hoping You Don’t Miss”

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All right, all right, all right. I just lost 2,000 words of a manuscript and basically that’s four weeks of work on my fiction at this point because I’m so freaking stressed and blocked, so I’m going to get into this right away. If you’re not sure why there’s a new selection for JHBC, you can find the answer here. But why have I chosen this book, out of the blue? What is it about this book that made me skip past all the requests I’ve had so far?

I first learned about Tracy Wolff’s Crave when the story of Universal’s pre-empt of the screen rights rolled across my Twitter timeline. I hadn’t heard any buzz about the book at all until then and suddenly it was everywhere, touted as “your next vampire obsession” and “the next Twilight.” I like vampires. I like Twilight. I’m so gonna check this story out, right?

And that’s when I see who published the book: Entangled. And who was interviewed for the story? Not Wolff, the actual writer. Liz Pelletier, the book’s editor and the publisher at Entangled.

Let me give you some backstory on my relationship with Pelletier and Entangled, so nobody can be like, “BIAS! BIIIIIAAAS! You didn’t disclose that you had a personal beef with the publisher!” Well, I don’t. I have professional beef. I’ll disclose that so you can read my critique of this particular title with that in mind and decide whether or not my bias has affected my analysis of the text. So, here’s the beef:

Entangled bought my book, Such Sweet Sorrow, with a film/TV development deal already in place. It was work-for-hire, meaning my agent connected with an awesome, supportive, much-missed guy out in Hollywood who came up with the idea, brainstormed it with me, and got it representation at a major entertainment agency. Meanwhile, I wrote the book and its sequel and the series proposal and bible for the eventual television show. I sent book two off to Pelletier, my editor, about two weeks before my partner in crime died. I was devastated.

I was even more devastated when months went by with no word from Pelletier on the second book. The book that Nick and I had worked so hard to mold and shape. More months. Then a year. Then two years. Since the television show was off the table–and very likely since she does not like “controversial” authors, which I was quickly becoming in the wake of the Anne Rice dust up–my book was abandoned. A year of my work will never see the light of day. A year of work with someone who, five days before he died, was still sending me notes on the project and was pursuing a graphic novel adaptation. This was a project that both of us cared about and poured a lot of work into. And it was just out there, in a void of unreturned calls and emails.

During the waiting time, I expressed my frustration to another Entangled author at Literary Love Savannah. The author rolled her eyes, laughed, and said,  “She is always chasing the next Twilight. Or the next something. She wants a movie. If you can’t give it to her, she loses interest.”

Back to a few years before. Pelletier had contracted an author to write Pelletier’s idea for a series she once described to me as “Twilight with aliens.” The series was a big success for Pelletier and the author who wrote it. But it wasn’t enough; though the film rights were optioned, the studio let the option expire and revert back. Pelletier didn’t get her movie, no matter how many times she tried to repackage and relaunch the series over and over again. Now, Pelletier has played it safe, going for “Twilight with vampires.”

But not just Twilight with vampires.” This one…has a twist. From PopBuzz:

There’s one key detail that looks set to set Crave apart from Twilight though. Liz states that it will be told from a “decidedly feminist perspective.” Given that Twilight was panned by many feminist critics for Bella’s storyline, it will be interesting to see how Crave compares.

I agree, PopBuzz. Because the thing is, Twilight was over a decade ago. Its success has waned and its esteem in the eyes of readers–even its most ardent fans at the time–has somewhat lessened, judging by how many people expressed dismay that Midnight Sun will finally be released. Authors wouldn’t dare use Twilight as a comp in their query letters, lest they get roasted behind their backs by slush pile sorters who like to mock rubes living ten years behind the times. But Liz Pelletier seems to be the only publisher who doesn’t realize that. So, I’m absolutely dying to see how this pans out from that perspective.

So, you can see where this might end up with accusations of a personal vendetta against Pelletier or Entangled. I don’t have a vendetta. I have a grudge. Vendettas require a lot of effort and frankly, I don’t have the time to ruin anyone. I’d still be looking into this book even if it didn’t come with my personal baggage; “feminist Twilight” is just as enticing a lure for me had it come from any other publisher.

And here’s where things get really interesting: I’ve never read Tracey Wolff. At all. Ever. And this is shocking to me because she’s written a lot of books, most of them romance or erotic romance. Like, how did I miss her? Especially since she wrote for Harlequin Desire back in the day and that imprint was an auto-buy addiction for me before I started shopping at a grocery store that doesn’t carry them. I should have read at least something of hers before. Since I haven’t, I get to walk into this thing fresh as a daisy. And I’ve never heard anything bad about her that would have put me off reading this book. Everything seems pretty above-board with this one, ethically.

Plus, I actually did love Twilight, despite a brief period of insisting I only liked it “ironically” or I downright hated it because it’s what all the cool kids were doing at the time and I was furious with Breaking Dawn.

Seriously. That is how you wrap this conflict up? Really?

Anyway, I’m going into this with a brand-new-to-me author, in a book that seems to be part of a burgeoning vampire renaissance, masterminded by the woman who thought signing Alexa Riley was a great idea. What could go wrong?

Honestly, though, I’m hoping it goes right. And I haven’t really heard anything from anyone to suggest that it won’t. So let’s dive in.

October 2019 Patron Appreciation Video

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Welcome, to this extremely late Patreon reward video! Thanks as always to all my readers and supporters and people who pass links along or say, “You should check out Jenny’s blog!” 1,000x thank you. Thank you 5,000.

 

EDIT: I guess I should tell you what the video is about. It is about me, wearing Lewis Capaldi’s face like some kind of demented celebrity stalker/serial killer. No Capaldis were harmed in the making of this video.

Jamie McGuire, You Cupid Stunt

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Note: This is an incredibly image-heavy post. Rather than filling out the alt-text for screen readers, I started putting, “This is a Facebook post, text to follow” or whatever in the alt-text and then I was like, “Jenny, just put a note at the top of the page explaining that every image is a screencap of Jamie McGuire’s Facebook post and comment threads.” So, ta-da! Every image is of a Jamie McGuire Facebook post or comment thread and all of the comments are presented as-is in the body of this blog post.

Oh, and speaking of “as-is,” please keep in mind that these are emotionally charged Facebook comments flying back and forth and putting [sic] everywhere someone mistyped or made an error would have been akin to one of the labors of Hercules, so I didn’t do that.

Now, these screenshots don’t show everything. These were taken by people and either they gave me permission to use them or they sent them to me. I don’t creep Jamie McGuire’s Facebook page because I value my fleeting time on this plane of existence. So, if it seems choppy or something is missing or doesn’t make sense, it’s because I’m just working with what I’ve got.

Believe me, it’s enough.

CW: Racism, discussion of Ahmaudd Arbery’s death.

Look at my dog

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I’m on edibles, y’all.

Look at this dog:

A gray pit bull about the same size as the striped house cat it's sleeping beside. The dog has one leg thrown over the sleeping cat.

Cat included for size comparison. That pit bull you’re looking at? The one beside the normal-sized house cat? She’s full grown. We call her a teacup pit bull as a joke. She can fit under the overhang of our lower kitchen cupboards to snuggle up against the heating vent. She can also fit in your lap, which is handy for a breed that does sit in your lap regardless of their size. Her feetsers are itty-bitty. She’s just the smallest damn pit bull I’ve ever seen. Until about two months ago, I could put her in a shoebox.

Let me tell you about this dog. My Baba decided that she loved our pit bulls so much, she was going to get one of her own. She went down to the shelter where they had an adult pit bull but the shelter workers were concerned that he was probably too large and strong for an eighty-year-old to walk and they encouraged her to look at others so she wouldn’t die from being dragged six miles by a galloping pit bull.

Since we’re basically a broken record about our belief that there are no bad dogs, just bad training, Baba got a better idea. She would buy a pit bull puppy from the step-son of one of my father’s friends and train it herself.

You see that on step one, we’re already off track here, right?

The person who bred the puppies insisted that they needed to be rehomed right away. They had already been weened and were eight weeks old.

A puppy that is very clearly not eight weeks old.

Now, that? Is not an eight-week-old puppy. Even as the runt of the litter, that’s not an eight-week-old pit bull puppy. Her eyes were barely opened and very, very blue. That unicorn toy that’s roughly the same size as she is? That’s a Beanie Baby. When I saw this dog, my first thought was, “Oh my god, she’s adorable!” and then, “Oh, shit. Those scars tell me she’s not a learner.” This puppy had no bite inhibition at all. At her first vet appointment, the doctor was horrified that she’d already been weened and separated. She backed up my first assertion: “This is not an eight-week-old puppy.”

Worst of all, Baba named the dog Sophie.

Come on, family. Get it together.

You know what’s not a great combination? Pit bull puppies with no bite inhibition and paper-thin, eighty-year-old skin. It became quickly apparent that Baba could not keep the dog and all of her blood. She had to choose between the two. Because our daughter had already fallen in love with her and because we have pit bulls (the best thing you can do for your pit bull pup is to let it spend time with other well-behaved pit bulls), we took the dog. I quickly changed her name to Puppers because what kind of jerk off would have a dog named after the main character of their books?

Anyway, you know how I said that there are no bad dogs, just bad training? I stand by that and just assume that Puppers is the exception that proves the rule. I don’t know what the means, actually, because I’m not good at math. I’m not saying she’s a bad dog, per se, but she’s definitely a dog who does not give a fuck. About anything. She does what she wants and if that lines up with what I want, great! If not, too bad. She has absolutely no drive to please anyone.

We have managed to teach her some things. Not to bite, for example. First of all, we had to change any command we used with her because she’d been told “no” so often already that she didn’t even hear it anymore. “Gentle,” I would say in a soothing tone as I separated the jaws of serrated puppy teeth sawing through the flesh on my forearms, “I only like gentle dogs.” Eventually, that worked well enough to remind her to stop jumping up on people, too. I mean, at least forty percent of the time. And she doesn’t bite anymore, but she does start to bite. To correct this, I say sternly, “No pit bull face!” Pits can have a real scary looking face if they bare their teeth and they’re a breed of dog that just can’t get away with that nonsense.

One of the ways Puppers has devised on her own to curb her biting is to grab a toy, press it up against the person or other animal she wants to bite, then bite the toy. Which is pretty smart, I guess, and a great alternative to having to get the cat’s head out of her mouth. However, the cat does not appreciate having a toy jammed forcefully into her side or face, so this doesn’t always work out. Despite their perceived peacefulness in the photo above, their relationship is tumultuous at best. As a result, we often have to break up the fights resulting from Puppers’s enthusiastic, often humping-based, attempts at friendship. “Gentle!” and “She doesn’t like that!” tend to work more than the cat’s shrieking, hissing, and needle-sharp claws. Pain seems to be no behavioral deterrent at all, judging by the number of times she’s had run-ins with stinging insects, only to go back for more.

I really didn’t want another dog. At the time we adopted her, Puppers was our fourth dog, when we had just started preparing ourselves to be down to two. My seventeen-year-old beagle passed a few months after Puppers came to live with us and brought us back to three. Deep in mourning for the dog that was rarely found more than two feet from me at any time and fed up from trying to train a beast that still drew blood from me on a daily basis, I thought I was never going to love Puppers. But then, she got big enough to be allowed upstairs. Every morning, Mr. Jen would let her into the bedroom as I slept and she would attack me with love, burrowing under my head, frantically licking my face, then tunneling under the covers to snuggle, her tail thumping wildly. No matter where I go or what I do, when I get back, she’s thrilled to see me. She’s big enough now that she no longer sleeps in her crate and consistent learning/grudging acceptance of our silly rules has earned her the right to sleep in bed with me, snuggled up against my butt, so now I wake up to much calmer puppy snuggles. Then I remember how much I so didn’t want to take on another dog and how I was sure I would resent this one for being an ill-behaved little monster.

As I write this, Puppers had to be scolded for eating a tube of paint. She was remorseless.

This dog is naughty and terrible and I love her to bits. I hope hearing a little bit about her brightened your day because IDK about anyone else but my brain is flippin’ fried so this is about as high concept as I can be right now.

Puppers sleeping with her tongue out.

The Creepy Waco Story

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Welcome to the weirdest story that I finally have permission to share. The family lore almost as freaky, at least, to me, as our old haunted house. The story I promised on Twitter in the middle of the night when I was watching that Waco miniseries. That’s right. Seventeen-year-old has given his blessing. I am allowed to tell you…

The Creepy Waco Story.

When my now seventeen-year-old turned about three, we were on an errand to the post office. He couldn’t read. He pointed to the sign warning that firearms can’t be carried in the building and said, “That means you can’t have a gun in the post office.” Since there’s a picture of a gun with a slashed red circle over it, I didn’t think it was that weird that he got the gist of it. Then he said, “It’s that way in Texas, too.”

I decided to play along. “Is it?” After all, he knew Texas existed; he had aunts and uncles who lived there.

He went on, “It was that way when I lived there a long time ago.”

“When was that?” I asked because it was keeping him from being wild in the post office.

“Oh, a long time ago,” he informed me sagely. “Like six weeks ago.”

We did our post office business and got into the car, where he continued on the subject. “If you have guns in Texas the bad guys will shoot you. I got in a shootout.”

Obviously, he’d seen a cowboy movie or something. “Well, it’s a good thing you’re okay,” I told him.

Very quietly, he said, “No, I wasn’t.”

Weird response.

After that day at the post office, all my kid could talk about was Texas. He wanted to go to Texas, where he used to live. He wanted to go to Texas, where the shootout happened. Where do you want to live when you grow up? Texas. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? Texas. And not because he wanted to see the family members there. He was adamant that he wanted to go to Texas because he used to live there.

This went on for a long time. A really, really long time. Longer than six weeks. All the way into Kindergarten where at six-years-old he made a book about himself. The teacher printed out the pages. It was up to my kid to fill out the answers, with my help, and bring it back to be made into a real, bound book with laminated covers.

From the first page, things didn’t go great:

A worksheet with the answers provided in a kid's handwriting: "My hair is: blond. I weigh: 40 lbs. I am: 44" tall. I have 20 teeth." Beneath all this is a crude drawing of a naked child crying with a sad mouth.

With absolutely zero prompting, my kid drew a picture of himself, naked and crying, in this project we had to turn back in to be made into a keepsake. So, that was going to be a fun CPS visit (his teacher later told me that he’d explained it was a picture of being at the doctor’s office, where one usually gets measured and weighed).

But that was nothing compared to the disturbing thing that happened when we got to the page about vacations:

A page of the book says: A special place I'd like to visit...travel...see..." My kid has written "TEXAS" and below that has drawn a picture of a large building with a helicopter flying over it and bombs falling.“Wow,” I said when he showed me the picture. “What’s happening here?”

“That’s my house in Texas,” he said, pointing out the different floors. “That’s where only the girls live. That’s where only the boys live.”

“And…what’s the helicopter?” I asked, getting serious creepy-crawlies.

“That’s when the shoot out happened.”

The shoot out, he explained, happened when helicopters came and people shot guns into the house. There are two doors on the front of the building. This was somehow significant to him but at six-years-old he couldn’t quite articulate it so I still have no idea what he meant. There are two hash marks, one indicating a window and another a random spot on the building. Those were important, too, but again he didn’t have any input as to why. But the bottom line was, there were bad guys and helicopters and they shot and exploded his house.

“You are not going to believe what I’m about to send you!” I told Bronwyn Green over the phone. I took a photo of the drawing with my digital camera, put the SD card into my laptop, transferred the file, and emailed it to Bronwyn, all while we were still on the phone with me just saying, “Trust me, I’ll tell you after you see the picture.” Seriously, that’s how much our lives have changed in a decade. THAT was what I had to do to send someone a photo in 2008.

Bronwyn opened the file and said, “Oh…my…god.”

“What would you say that is?” I asked.

“I would say your kid drew a picture of Waco.”

I told her all the stuff he’d said about the bad guys and the fire and the shootout; she’d heard the history of his Texas obsession before. “Is it possible he heard of Waco somewhere and he’s pretending?”

But we couldn’t figure out where a Kindergartener would have just randomly stumbled over shit about Waco, especially without me noticing. It was 2008, it wasn’t really a hot topic, even though I was pretty conservative back then. And even if he had, he’d been talking about the shootout in Texas for years. Complicating the issue, he insisted that it was his house, but that he was a policeman or a sheriff. I don’t know enough about the Branch Davidians to know if there were any former law enforcement who lived there. But it started to feel real past-lifey.

I weighed the pros and cons of showing my kid any Waco pictures because what if that started a conversation that I was in no way freaking prepared to have with a six-year-old when I was just twenty-eight. I settled on showing him a picture of the complex that didn’t have evidence of the raid in any way. I said, “Hey, look at this.”

“That’s my house!” He was totally psyched. “That’s my house in Texas.”

A few months later, my husband’s cousin in San Antonio got married. Because I’d just had my second child a few months earlier, I stayed home and Mr.Jen took Child the Elder so I wouldn’t have to juggle them both. Of course, the kid was over the moon. Finally, he was going back to Texas, where he used to live before I was his mommy (another weird phrase both of my kids have flung around, weirdly)!

Now, they were nowhere near Waco. They were in San Antonio the whole time. But when they returned, my kid’s obsession with Texas was cured. He wasn’t disappointed in Texas or anything. He’d just been there. Dream realized. Bucket list complete.

When he got older, I mentioned it to him and showed him the picture he’d drawn.

He didn’t remember anything about it.