This chapter is profoundly sad. It’s also almost comically exaggerated, which kind of distracts from the heaviness of what’s actually happening, and I’m not sure if that was a choice since it’s a children’s book or just the way JKR wrote back then, but either way it’s a strange reading experience.

For ten years, ten of his most formative years, Harry was forced to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. Full of spiders and not much else. He was used as a punching bag by Dudley and all his gross friends. He was used as a verbal punching bag by Mr. Dursley. He was used as a servant by Mrs. Dursley. He was spoken about as if he wasn’t actually there, and never, as far as I remember, addressed with his actual name. He had nothing of his own, only hand-me-downs from Dudley. He was almost never allowed out of the house, except to go to school or shopping with Mrs. Dursley, he never got to go on trips, he never got to celebrate his birthday. He was locked in his cupboard for days on end for the slightest things.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine going from this, the only life you remember, to being famous, beloved, and magical? How terrifying and disorienting that must have been. How undeserving he must have felt.

Even in this chapter, before he knows anything about himself or his world, Harry is so excited to be able to go along to the zoo with the Dursleys. He hates them and they hate him, he must know that they aren’t going to actually let him enjoy himself, and he’s still grateful to go, to be given a cheap lemon popsicle and to be allowed to finish Dudley’s unwanted leftovers and to not have to stay with Mrs. Figg. If he’d only known who she really was. This seems like luxury to him, like as much as he can hope for.

The glimpses he’s given of the people who know who he is and appreciate him are also sad. Like, “When he had been younger, Harry had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away, but it had never happened; the Dursleys were his only family. Yet sometimes he thought (or maybe hoped) that strangers in the street seemed to know him.” Break my heart, Harry. They do know you. Just wait, so much good is coming your way. I mean, also a lot of bad, but … a place to belong and people who want you. And magic!

The seeds of some of the series’ core elements are planted in this chapter–Harry being able to communicate with snakes, the bits of memory he has of the night his parents died, even a little of his saving people complex. Or, well, saving things complex. Without even knowing he can do magic, he still manages to free the snake and send it on its way to its homeland. I don’t know what JKR’s writing process was like, how much of the series she had planned out before she started writing, but it’s really interesting to see how early these things were introduced, and how casually. They hardly seem important at this point except insofar as they further Harry’s abuse and sense of alienation, but they build and build throughout the series. I love it.

I enjoyed this chapter a lot more than the first one, and, more surprisingly, I’m finding Harry much more sympathetic than I ever did before. I don’t know if it’s a result of being older and more able to recognize and appreciate nuance, or if it’s just that I haven’t gotten to the later books when he’s much more angsty and unkind to his friends, but I want to give him a hug and assure him that Hagrid is coming. And I want to have a stern talk with Dumbledore and ask if there was truly no other way to protect Harry the way he needed to be protected, because honestly. This is just cruel and unnecessary and surely he knows what’s happening. I really believe that so much could have been avoided or at least minimized if Harry had had a more stable, less abusive upbringing and if he had been allowed to know things about his family. True things, not that they died in a car crash and were freaks.

Note: I’m using the American title because that’s the title of the version I grew up with and the version I’m rereading from. Shhh.

My first ever exposure to Harry Potter was in sixth grade, on an afternoon when my class had gone out to a pizza place for lunch and stuffed ourselves silly. Afterward, we lay on the classroom floor and our teacher read us the first chapter, and, I’m going to be honest with you here, I fell asleep. I have hazy memories of Hagrid arriving on the motorbike, Dumbledore taking Harry and placing him on the Dursleys’ doorstep, their moment of silence, but not much else. It’s a mystery why I then went on to devour and shape my life around the entire series, with an introduction like that. But I did.

An even bigger mystery is why, during those early years, I was so in love with Dumbledore. If there’s one thing I took away from rereading this first chapter, it’s that he’s really unbearable. His constant deflections, his refusal to just answer simple questions, his secretiveness. How much might have been different if he had just talked to people as though they were his equals, rather than revealing bits of information to various people and creating a mess of an incomplete puzzle no one else had all the pieces to. He’s just one man, not god.

That aside, I was also surprised by the simplicity of the writing. I’ve never thought JKR was a brilliant writer–a worldbuilder, yes, but not a writer–but I guess I had forgotten just how basic it was in the beginning. It did start out as a children’s series, so it makes sense, and this isn’t really a criticism. Just an observation. It was like rereading the Oz books after years and years and fondly laughing about the writing of those. What you think is brilliant as a child is not always so brilliant as an adult. And I’ve gotten used to fanfiction, which, if you find the right authors, is much more impressive in terms of writing quality.

It was fun to see the first appearance of the Deluminator, so far ahead of when it becomes important, and to see Professor McGonagall in cat form (the perfect animagus form for her, by the way), and to see Hagrid and the trust Dumbledore had for him. Hagrid is wonderful and deserves every good thing. And it was fun to have a chapter that wasn’t from Harry’s perspective but, instead, from the absurdly over-the-top terrible perspective of Mr. Dursley. Imagine how much less volatile Harry would have been if he hadn’t been raised by people who hated him so much and were so irredeemably awful and boring. Like. Who doesn’t approve of imagination?

This is a short post, but it was a short chapter. So, until next time, to Harry Potter — the boy who lived!

Harry Potter has been an enormous part of my life since I was ten years old. I’ve collected so many figurines, stickers, audiobooks, shirts, wands, necklaces, etc over the years. I’ve read so much fanfiction. So much. I’ve watched so many ABC Family marathons. I’ve spent so many days, nights, weeks, lifetimes immersing myself in the books, trying to will myself to Hogwarts through the sheer force of my love for it. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work, except in the ways it kind of did.

But I haven’t done a full reread of all the books in years. I used to fall asleep to Order of the Phoenix, and later Goblet of Fire, but the last time I read one of them all the way through was when I reread Deathly Hallows in preparation for the final film. Fanfiction and the films have completely taken over. And while they’re great in their own ways, I feel like it’s time to get back to the source material, to remember the days when it was all fresh and new and to find out if that core love is still there, even through a more critical adult lens.

So, I’m undertaking the project of reading all the way through, from beginning to end, and in an attempt to make something useful out of it, I’m going to be blogging each chapter as I read it. This is obviously going to be a long-running project–there are a lot of chapters. I’m thinking of trying to post two a week, but, you know … we’ll see. These aren’t going to be recaps so much as just my thoughts, feelings, and memories, with healthy doses of Dumbledore criticism and Hermione praise, I’m sure.

JKR says that Hogwarts will always be there to welcome me home. I’m coming home. You should come with me.

“Marilla,” she demanded presently, “do you think that I shall ever have a bosom friend in Avonlea?”

“A—a what kind of friend?”

“A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I’ve dreamed of meeting her all my life. I never really supposed I would, but so many of my loveliest dreams have come true all at once that perhaps this one will, too. Do you think it’s possible?”

–Lucy Maud Montgomery, “Anne of Green Gables”

Today is the birthday of one of my very best friends and one of the very best people ever to be born into this world. I wanted to write a post for her since I can’t celebrate with her in person, but now that I’m trying to do it, I’m finding that, as is so often the case with feelings, I don’t know the right words.

I don’t want this to be all about me, but the thing is, I can’t think of one of us without the other. We’ve spent a tragically short amount of time actually in the same space, but we’ve been in each other’s orbits for so many years. Our edges overlap, bleed into one another so that we’re an amalgamation of girl. Our blood rides in tandem, we been wove on the same loom. I love her and so I’ve had to try to learn to love myself.

She is a queen, the brightest star, the truest good. She sings beautifully, writes wonderfully (there’s no sharable evidence of that, so you’ll have to trust me), speaks honestly. There are layers to her that have been slowly and quietly peeled back over time, and even now I don’t claim to have seen beneath them all, but there’s also a bluntness to her when she’s comfortable that is more valuable than anything. I don’t have to worry and worry at her words until they become meaningless, searching for the things she’s not saying. I don’t have to distrust her expressions of feeling. I can’t even begin to tell you how important that is to me.

We sat together in silence for hours. Exchanging ocasional words, laughter, but mostly just being. She didn’t expect more than I was able to give. She didn’t offer more than I was able to take. She fit effortlessly into my established routines. We had sunshine, and we had cold, and we had bad movies and ice cream and picnics and late nights, and everything was wonderful. I was so afraid, but the first day she spent here we sat in my room and talked for hours and that was all it took. She patiently untangled my hopelessly tangled mass of necklace chains and, come on, do I need to spell this symbolism out for you?

Our temperaments are very similar, sometimes too similar, they crash against one another and sustain minor damage, but we always end up okay. We’re both a little difficult with regard to intimacy, whether romantic or platonic, we both feel a lot for and need a lot from the people we love, we both have a hard time verbalizing those feelings and needs and believing we deserve to have them honored. We separate sometimes, but inevitably find our way back together again because no one knows our siren songs like we do.

Often, I feel like my words aren’t saying what I want them to say, and I think that’s because, often, what I want to say is simpler than the words I use to say it. What I want to say is I love you, as vast as the salt sea, as bright as the moon, to me you are like breathing, you’re like food. What I want to say is I’m crossing all my fingers and making all my 11:11 wishes for seven, eight, nine more years of friendship to chart the as yet uncharted waters. What I want to say is I solemnly swear to be faithful to my bosom friend, as long as the sun and moon shall endure.

what I want to say is happy birthday, kindredest spirit, my Diana, the mermaid to my unicorn. I’m so indescribably glad you exist. Happy birthday, favorite girl.

This started out as a Facebook status, but then I kept adding words until I realized it was actually a blog post. So.

A fascinating (to me) thing about depression and anxiety is how insidious they can be, and how completely they can warp your thinking and perceptions and your baseline for feeling okay. I spent so long being miserable and exhausted and apathetic about everything that it became the normal state of things, and if anyone asked me how I was doing, I said I was fine, because I really thought I was. I thought that was just the way I was meant to feel, that maybe I was a little lazy, introverted, not a fan of going out, but mostly fine. And if I wasn’t fine, it was only because I was being silly or dramatic or having an off day/week/month/year/life.

But I was only going outside when I absolutely had to, and I was forcing myself through every day and then sleeping for hours in the middle of the afternoon because it took so much effort to be awake. Even when I was awake, I was mostly still in bed. I was hardly reading, wasn’t writing at all, was doing the bare minimum of connecting with people. I didn’t care about anything enough to commit to it in even the smallest ways, let alone in bigger life decisions ways. If I did commit to something, I quickly became panicked about it and wanted to distance myself from it. Winter was my favorite season because it was so cold that staying inside under blankets was what everyone was doing and I didn’t feel like I needed to make myself go outside. I was on edge all the time and cried at the drop of a hat. I called myself a misanthrope because it was easier to say I hated people than to say I was terrified of and exhausted by them, by their very existences. It’s unfathomable to me now that I existed in that state for so long and maintained even the vaguest semblance of being functional, and it’s unfathomable to me that I actually convinced myself I was more or less okay.

Now, I can’t get enough of being out in the sunshine. I want to go out and do interesting things and find interesting places, and meet new people (even if that’s still a little terrifying), and move my body (even if it’s just for fifteen minutes on the treadmill). I’m no longer ghostly pale and it turns out, all I had to do to get some healthy color was leave my house sometimes. Who knew? I make my bed when I get up every morning and I make a point of not getting back into it until I’m ready to wind down for the night. I still don’t eat as well or as often as I should and I still need excessive amounts of quiet alone time after being around people and I’m still too much in my own head, still carrying Xanax around in my purse just in case, still crying at the dentist and the gynecologist, still panicking about the passage of time and how much of it I’m wasting being crazy. I’m still not as good a friend as I would like to be, still too neglectful of the relationships that mean the most to me because distance complicates communication and sometimes, I’m just so tired. I’m still tired a lot. I still cry too easily. I still feel reflexively guilty for so much that isn’t my fault and so much that doesn’t even warrant guilt and so much I can’t change now anyway, and I still seek validation for everything from other people, even after I’ve already validated it for myself.

I’m not perfect, in other words. But now, I’m learning to be okay with that. To not tear myself apart for the slightest flaw, to not hold it up and magnify it until it eclipses all the good things about me. I’m learning that there’s no reason to be uncomfortable about saying I’m kind and funny and creative and good at the things I love doing, or that I’m strong and resilient and braver than I often feel. I’m learning that those things are a lot more important than all the things I think are so wrong with me, and that it takes good and bad to make a whole person.

And I’m learning to be proud of myself for how far I’ve come. I had to hit rock bottom, emotionally, to get here, but it’s okay. I’m sorry for the things that destructed along the way, or, more accurately, I’m sorry for the way they destructed, but it happened. It’s the past. I made mistakes and I didn’t handle things perfectly, and I’m going to make more mistakes and handle more things imperfectly, and that’s how life goes. But when it happens in the future, I’ll have more solid emotional structures to weather it, and I’ll be able to curb my catastrophizing tendencies and not self-destruct, and that’s not nothing. I’ve worked so hard over the past year or so, both in therapy and out of it. I’ve done so much. Just because the bulk of it has been internal doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.

This wasn’t just intended as a rave about how great I am. I also want to say that if you’re anything like I was, if your position is even vaguely similar, you don’t have to live like that. And you don’t deserve to. Perpetual exhaustion/sadness/apathy, extreme reluctance to leave your house/apartment/whatever, fear of everyone and everything, those things aren’t normal. They don’t have to be your normal. This isn’t to imply that there’s something inherently wrong with you or that you’re failing by not fixing yourself/your circumstances. Ultimately you have to do what seems right and best for you, and that’s not always therapy or medication or exercise or any of the other things people always recommend. “Recovery” is a loaded concept that isn’t right for everyone. It’s just to say that if you aren’t happy with the way things are, if you don’t want them to stay that way forever, they can change. You can change them. Depression lies. It tells us that this is how things will be until we die, and, furthermore, that it’s how we deserve for things to be because we’re fundamentally terrible, unlovable human beings. But we’re not. You’re not.

I’m saying this because it’s what I needed to hear. I knew that therapy and medication were good things for other people, and that other people’s mental illnesses were real and serious and deserving of treatment. I knew that the things I was feeling and thinking were bad. But somehow, I couldn’t connect those two concepts into anything that involved asking for help. If I couldn’t be well and happy on my own, it just wasn’t meant for me. That’s nonsense. And it was also nonsense when just months after starting to meet with my first therapist, she decided that I was well enough to be done with therapy and go it alone again. She wasn’t a very good therapist. I didn’t try again for a while, because a professional had told me I was okay. But I wasn’t. My second therapist is so, so much better. I’ve been seeing her for just over a year now, and I think, maybe, at the end of the summer I’ll be ready to decrease the frequency of my sessions. Not stop them, probably, just decrease them. I have a concrete plan for what I want to do with my life, one that actually feels achievable and sustainable and enjoyable, unlike most of the others I’ve considered. If I could get to this point, you definitely can. I’m such an unmotivated, anxious, defeatist person, and, still, here I am.

Therapy and medication might not be your things. They’re the thingsI recommend most strongly because they’re the things that have been the most transformative for me, but you’re not me. All I’m trying to say here is that you don’t deserve to feel the way I felt, and you don’t have to just accept that as the baseline for feeling okay. The story I told myself when I was in the middle of feeling that way was a cruel, destructive, completely untrue story, and I’m sad for that self and how long she believed it. If you’re telling yourself a similar story, of being unworthy of help, of being not mentally ill enough, of being lazy and selfish and horrible, I just want you to hear that it’s not the truth, and that you deserve to write yourself a different, truer one.

Disclaimer: These books all contain pretty terrible and offensive portrayals of mental illness, blindness, romantic relationships, female friendship, fatness, being poor, etc etc. R.L. Stine appears to hate consent and everyone who isn’t rich, beautiful, and neurotypical. My fave is problematic, I already know. I would advise against reading any of this series, not just the ones discussed here, if you think any of these things might upset or trigger you.

In lieu of a happy wagon post, here’s one about Fear Street. It’s pretty much the same thing, anyway.

As I’ve previously mentioned, Fear Street has become one of the great joys of my life. I’ve read an embarrassing number of them over the past eight months or so, and, despite having loved almost all of them, a few favorites have emerged ahead of the rest. So now I’m going to tell you about those, and try to entice you to read them, too, so I’ll have company in being a grown adult reading these absurd teen horror stories.


Nicole always thought her friend Lucy’s life was so much better than hers. She had cooler parents, a cuter boyfriend . . . next to her, Nicole felt like a loser. So when Lucy asked if she wanted to switch bodies, Nicole thought it sounded like a fun idea. Good for a laugh. She didn’t realize the switch would actually work. Or that Lucy’s life might not be so sweet after all. Turns out, Lucy’s got a few issues. And she’s about to get her revenge — using Nicole’s body!

This was one of the first ones I read and it’s amazing. I figured out the twist about halfway through, but even so, I was legitimately hooked and anxious about how it would all turn out. Don’t judge me. It’s really depressing if you think about it too hard, so don’t do that either. Just read, try not to hate Nicole too much even though she’s incredibly annoying, and laugh
along with me at the terrible twist! ending. And look forward to creepy well drowning scenes, heads being torn off with sounds like the scrape of Velcro, and the most inept police officers (or are they?) ever, in typical Shadyside fashion.

“The Face”

They say something horrible happened that day. But Martha can’t remember any of it–not the smallest detail. They say it will come back to her in time. But someone wants her to remember now. She draws his face, over and over–the face of a dead boy. She can’t control her hand. And she can’t remember how he died. But she’s going to find the answer.

This one is sooo good. If you don’t read any of the others (and you probably won’t), you should at least read this. There are kisses that taste like salty nacho chips, kisses that taste like candy bars, implausible hypnosis, the most unbelievably convenient plot contrivances in the history of terrible writing, and a fantastic decapitation scene in which someone’s head “bounced onto the snow. And emptied out. Emptied out. Emptied out.” It also has one of the flimsiest reasons for murder that I’ve ever read, even for Fear Street. And the most word repetition of any book ever. Basically, everything about this book is the best thing about it and you’re really missing out if you don’t read it.

“College Weekend”

Nothing can ruin Tina River’s big weekend at Patterson College with her boyfriend, Josh Martin. She’s so excited, she doesn’t even mind that her cousin, Holly, will be tagging along.

But when Tina and Holly arrive, Josh is gone. His roommate, Christopher Roberts, says Josh is stuck in the mountains, delayed by car trouble. That’s weird—Josh never mentioned he was going away.

It gets even weirder when Holly suddenly disappears. But Christopher isn’t worried— about Holly or Josh. Christopher seems to have the answer to everything. Tina is confused. But one thing is clear— she’s about to learn more about love and murder than she ever wanted to know.

This book has a disgusting description of a person’s face being burned away by photo developing chemicals. I’m not even sure if the chemicals in question could actually do that, but if reading about it happening isn’t something you’re eager to do, I don’t know what you’re doing here. It’s great. And before that, the villain forces the heroine to dress up in his dead girlfriend’s clothes and take pictures, and then in his great-grandmother’s clothes, and, I mean, come on. R.L. Stine has some serious problems and we’re blessed with these books where he tries to work them out, the least we can do is read them. This is also one of the most blatant depictions of his favorite “he forces himself on you because he loves you” trope, which, well … maybe you’re not eager to read about that, and fair enough, but it’s impossible for me to take seriously in these books. Maybe that makes me a garbage human being. So be it.

“Fear Hall: The Beginning” / “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”

Come with me to Fear Hall. That’s the creepy college dorm built many years ago by the cursed Fear family. Hope and her roomates live in Fear Hall. Hope’s boyfriend lives there, too. They’re all good students and best friends. Everything is going great…until one of them becomes a murderer! Now Hope is about to find out that life at Fear Hall can be a real scream! I hope you’ll join me for Fear Hall. This story has so many scares, it took me two books to tell it all!

I read a recap of this duology before I read the books themselves, so the whole thing was spoiled for me. Don’t do that. Just read the books. They’re off the rails from start to finish, and so full of plot holes that it’s amazing there’s even a consistent narrative at all. I don’t know what I can tell you about them without ruining the experience of reading them, so you should just trust me. There are many gruesome murders, a violent, unstable boyfriend, terrible friends making the worst decisions possible, inept police, psychological contortions that will make your brain hurt both because they make no sense and because they’re awesome … everything you want from Fear Street, and they don’t even take place in Shadyside. Warning: there’s a lot of disturbing-ish fat-shaming, so, you know … if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, maybe give this a miss. It isn’t portrayed as an okay thing, but I also don’t think the effects it has on the girl in question are portrayed particularly sensitively. It also has a girl getting her skin burned and peeled off by six gallons of chlorine poured in a jacuzzi, though, and another one being steam pressed to death, so it’s got that going for it.

“Into the Dark

Paulette Fox refuses to let her blindness stop her from living a full life. But one thing she’s never done is fall in love–until now. Paulette knows Brad Jones is the only guy for her. Even when her friends see Brad commit a horrible crime, Paulette is sure that he’s innocent. Her friends tell her he’s out of control. That she will be his next victim. But Paulette knows he would never hurt her. Is Paulette right about Brad? Or has her love put her in terrible danger?

I haven’t laughed so much at a book since reading this, and before that, I hadn’t laughed so much since “Fifty Shades Freed”. If you’re one of my blind friends and inaccurate portrayals of blindness make you angry, you should probably skip it, but really, it’s fantastic. Paulette can tell exactly how fast her friend is driving by the way the wind feels on her face, identify people by smell, and travel all around town–even to an abandoned house–on her own, but she needs guide rails to find her way around her own backyard. She doesn’t want her parents and friends to be so overprotective of her, but she makes such ridiculously stupid decisions that she’d probably be dead if they weren’t. She refuses to call the police when her bedroom is vandalized, lies to her parents after the villain tries to pull her out her bedroom window, and refuses to call the police again when the villain creeps and heavy breathes around her backyard and takes away her guide rails, all because she doesn’t want people to think she can’t take care of herself. Spoiler alert: she really can’t. She also feels people’s faces to get an idea of what they look like, which, like. Writers. Stop this. It’s not a thing. We don’t do it. Ditto counting steps. But actually if you’re my guy R.L., don’t stop it, do it as much as you want. This book is flawless, even though the twist was obvious from the beginning, and I’ll probably read it many more times.

Honorable mentions:

“The Boy Next Door”

Lynne and Crystal think Scott has it all. He’s handsome. He’s the new star of Shadyside High’s football team. And he’s moved in right next door! Both girls will do anything. Say anything. Try anything to get the chance to go out with him. That’s all either of them want.

But that’s all Scott’s last girlfriend wanted, too – and now she’s dead.

This is R.L. Stine’s attempt at a “Psycho” ripoff, except the villain doesn’t become his mother when he kills, he just mutters phrases she’s drilled into his head. Warning: a dog gets killed with a pair of hedge clippers. Pets are another thing R.L. Stine hates. There are elements of this book that I actually find a little unsettling, especially for a Fear Street story, and a lot of it takes place from the killer’s point of view. But there are hilariously dramatic internal monologues to balance it out, and it contains the line, “Okay. So we’re both hot for his bod!” I love the idea of someone actually saying that and also the idea of R.L. Stine writing it. And I love such charitable sisterly thoughts as, “She hated it when Melinda put herself down that way. Sure, Melinda was plain, and shy, and kind of drab. But she could have a shot at any guy if she made the effort.”

“The Prom Queen”

A spring night…soft moonlight…five beautiful Prom Queen candidates…dancing couples at the Shadyside High prom—these should be the ingredients for romance.

But stir in one brutal murder—then another, and another—and the recipe quickly turns to horror.

Lizzie McVay realizes that someone is murdering the five Prom Queen candidates one by one—and that she may be next on the list! Can she stop the murderer before the dance is over—for good?

Lizzie McVay is the best Fear Street heroine I’ve read so far, maybe the only good one there is. Pushy Shadyside boys don’t get her all hot and bothered, and she actually kicks one of them out of her house and another out of her car when they get creepy, and calls one of them out for cheating on his girlfriend and assuming she must be interested in him because every girl is. She has a long-distance boyfriend she only communicates with through letters because I guess this is set in the 1800s, and she never cheats on him even though he’s not in the book at all until the end. That’s a low bar to set, but sadly, it’s saying something for Fear Street girls. She also breaks the villain’s foot at the end and manages to save herself, rather than being last-minute saved by the police or the guy she likes. And she’s mostly nice to people and not a terrible friend, except for the catty mean girl thoughts she has, like, “Rachel wasn’t the most popular girl in the class or anything, but that was mainly because she was so shy. Well, I guess it was also because she had a bitter streak in her, about being poor and all.” And, “Simone was playing Maria Von Trapp, of course. She always was the star. Even though she didn’t make a very convincing nun.” That’s so perfectly high school and I love it.

Please read any or all of these books. Do it. And then talk to me about them.

I want to talk about One Direction. I want to talk about them because they’re important and they matter so much to me and I want you to understand why, but I also want to talk about them because maybe if I can make my love for them seem like something deep and serious, you’ll respect it and won’t make a joke of it and I can keep talking about them without feeling like I need to apologize for it every time, and that’s a reason I hate. Things don’t always have to be deep and serious to matter. I’m not a teenager anymore and I no longer feel like I can only listen to sad, heavy songs because those are the only songs that are worthwhile and the only songs that will make people see me as a serious girl. I am a serious girl, most of the time, but I’m also a girl who desperately wants to be happy, who is so bone-deep exhausted by sadness and heaviness and dark emotions that if I never felt anything but bright, sweet, bubblegum-sugary pop happiness for the rest of my life, that would be great. As Witchsong says: there is nothing wrong with happiness, with things being easy.

One Direction’s music makes me happy. It’s music I can listen to without having to engage my brain unless I want to, music which sometimes actually requires me to disengage my brain in order to enjoy it, and while that maybe sounds like an insult, I promise you it’s not. I need to disengage my brain more often, to just. Stop. Overanalyzing everything to death. I need to just feel things, sometimes, without complicating them. I’m not very good at that, and loving One Direction is, for me, an exercise in turning off and tuning in.

On one level, they’re five boys with cute accents, doing cute things and performing cute friendship for us all to shriek about. They’re a manufactured boy band singing manufactured boy band songs about how beautiful we are even if we don’t know it, how much they love our endearing little imperfections, how devastated it makes them when we leave them. They know their audience and they cater to us flawlessly. They made a perfume for us, which, listen, actually smells pretty nice. They gave us “Girl Almighty”.

On another level, they’re stadiums full of girls who are overjoyed to be there, to be in the presence of these boys they love, but also to be in the presence of so many other girls enjoying a thing together with all their souls. Screaming teenage girls are what’s most often criticized about boy bands. Who would want to see them in concert and have their eardrums exploded by that shrieking noise? Me. I would. I’m genuinely heartbroken that I lost my chance to see One Direction in concert last September, the last chance I’d have gotten to see all five of them together. To be in the midst of that magnificence, that tidal wave of girl-energy, that sharp, bright happiness. I love girls, is the thing, and I love seeing people loving things, and I love spaces that exist just for that. I want people to get really, wildly, embarrassingly excited about the things they love, to make everyone take notice of their enthusiasm. Especially if that enthusiasm is for something that people mock and dismiss because it’s marketed toward teenage girls, because it isn’t a deep, serious, man-approved thing. I’m a serious girl, and I want permission not to be, just for a while, just in this one space. One Direction give me that permission. Harry Styles says, “You can get get anything that you want, baby just shout it out, shout it out.”

On a final level, One Direction are us. They give us a framework to talk about ourselves, to offer up and examine our emotions in a way that’s safe, away that’s easier sometimes than confronting them directly as parts of ourselves. We choose members we identify with more than the others and we project things onto them because they’re really only partially filled canvases to us. We love them and we worry about them and we talk about them as though we know them intimately, as though they’re our partners and our best friends and ourselves, because they are. They are.

For me, that special member is Zayn. It’s always been Zayn, from the first time I heard a One Direction song and thought, there could be something here, this could matter to me. It was his voice that made me listen more closely, he was the first one I Googled to find out his name, it was his awkward mumbling and his kindness toward pregnant women and his gentleness in interviews that hooked into my heart and dragged me in. It’s the little things, as they know well.

I’m embarrassed to say that it was that song that was my way into One Direction, but it was, and I can’t be sorry about it because, well, here I am. I vividly remember the first time I heard it and how much I hated it, how much I ranted about it, how scornful I was of the lyrics. To be honest, I’m still a little scornful of the lyrics, and I don’t love it anymore, but for a while it was something I played again and again. Just to solidify how much I really, really hated it. Just to make sure I had all the lyrics right, for when I wanted to complain about it. Just to hear Zayn. Just to hear Harry’s rasp. Just because … oh, because I loved it. I did.

This got away from me a little. What I meant to say was that Zayn is the most important to me, and that’s my bad luck, because earlier this week he left the group. My favorites always leave, or die, or break my heart in some other way. It’s tradition. But this time it’s so personal for me, because of what Zayn is to me. Because of what I project onto him. He seems like the least attainable, which makes him the most comfortable for me to swoon over. He seems the least accessible, the one who gives the least of himself to the public, and yet he’s also so gentle and kind and everyone loves him and wants more of him. It seems really obnoxious to relate to that, but I do. It often feels to me like people want to befriend me despite how little I give to them, and I often resent their intrusions into my life and my space because how could it be genuine? How could they care? They don’t even know me. My kindness and my desire to help people don’t mean they do. I don’t love this about myself, but it’s a thing, and I’m trying to be honest with you here.

Zayn has also been the most vocal about how anxiety-causing and overwhelming it is to be in such an enormously successful, famous band. How difficult it is sometimes, even though you’re grateful, of course, so grateful for the opportunities you’ve been given. As a very fragile anxiety baby, albeit not one who’s a member of a successful, famous band, I feel this a lot. And, similarly to how people reacted when Robin Williams died, there’s an element of, if Zayn, with all his privileges and resources, couldn’t hack it, if he was so overwhelmed by stress that he had to take a break and then ultimately decided to leave completely, what hope do I have of being okay? Of Handling my life? I’m not saying this is reasonable or rational, it’s just how I’ve felt this week, and it’s hard.

It’s also hard that this band, this collective of joy, this thing that has gotten me through so much sadness and heaviness and depression and fear, is changing. It’s not ending, maybe, but the way it used to be is ending. I don’t do well with change under the best circumstances, which these are not. Of course we all knew it wasn’t going to last forever. Boy bands are fleeting, ephemeral things. We hold on so tightly because we know that soon we won’t be able to hold on at all. I haven’t listened to “Through the Dark” since the news of Zayn’s leaving, because to me it represents everything that One Direction are and now won’t be. I wrote something about that song that I might share here soon, because it’s long and personal and means a lot and I don’t want to just shove it into this post at the end, but here. Listen, and try to understand what it means to have five beloved, important people telling you, yes, you, even though they don’t know you personally, that you deserve to be loved, that you can be loved even when you’re at your darkest, that it’s okay to cry and fall apart and that they’ll be there through it all and it will get better, somehow, someday, you’ll make it better together. Try to understand why I cried about Zayn just a little bit in therapy yesterday, and, even if you don’t care about One Direction, try to understand that I do, that a lot of people do, and maybe try to be kind to us right now. Maybe save your super funny jokes about 1D hysteria for another time.

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The world is heavy and I am heavy in the world.

This is, at least in part, the reason for my current lack of blogging. November was an exceptionally difficult and stressful month, for me, but also, it seems, for almost everyone else. Personally, this has been a time of trying to love people better, trying to love some people less, trying to let some people go. It’s been a time of having to get really real with myself and my life and the ways I’ve let my mental health issues affect both, as well as other people. It’s been loss and regret and planning and packing and moving and meds and stress, and stress, and stress.

Politically, it’s been blow after blow, gut-punch after gut-punch. It’s been brutality and death and injustice, racism and ignorance and a shocking lack of empathy. It’s been don’t look at the news, don’t click the link, don’t read the comments. It’s been no emotional reserves left to deal with this world, but also the knowledge that that’s a luxury I don’t deserve to indulge, that to be an ally means opening my mouth, speaking up, engaging where others can’t and shouldn’t have to. And it’s been mourning that during a time meant for thanks, a mother has no son left to be thankful for, a woman is imprisoned for a crime she didn’t come close to committing, and a child’s life has been cruelly cut off before it even had a chance to begin.

These are the things I don’t like to blog about, because there’s already enough of them in the world, on the web. Everyone is sad, or sick, or stressed, or scared. Winter is coming and we’re all still sweet summer children. I want to write and share things that will make people feel a little warmer, a little lighter, a little happier. I want to focus on positivity so that when I’m in the depths of despair, as Anne would put it, I can look back at the good things and remind myself that they were, and are, and will be.

But sometimes, things are just hard, and heavy, and that’s all. Sometimes, you just have to sit with that heaviness and acknowledge it. Not bow to it, never that, but know that it’s there, that it’s real, and that, like all things, it’s temporary. Even if it’s recurring, it’s not forever. And then, even though it’s temporary, that it’s yours and it’s also many other people’s, and maybe it would help some of them to see it reflected back from someone else. To know that they’re not alone. Even though we know this, intellectually, we don’t always know it emotionally, and even though the news and social media never let us forget, sometimes we forget anyway.

So, you’re not alone. The world is heavy and I am heavy in the world, and if you are, too, I’m here with you. It will get better–even now, even in November, there were good, happy things–but that doesn’t make the ache less or the burden lighter, right here, right now. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be instantly better, you don’t have to sweep it away or hide it behind platitudes and positivity mantras. But you can share it, and let people hold your hand and love you through it.

I always want things to be easy, especially emotional things. I want them to be only good, and, when they aren’t, I want to ignore and rush past them to a point when they will be again, or to a point where there’s enough distance that I don’t have to care anymore. But that isn’t the way anything works, least of all emotions, and so many of the hard things in my life have been caused by these avoidant tendencies. I know that, and I’m working on it. I’m fortunate enough to have some wonderful people in my life who never stop loving me and never stop holding out their hands, even if I don’t always take them, and I’m so glad and so grateful and I hope you have that, too.

If you don’t (or even if you do), here is me loving you, here is me holding out my hand. Here is me saying I know it’s hard, I know it’s heavy. It is for me, too. But we can help get each other to better. After winter comes spring, but winter is still to be endured, and what better form of warmth?

I’ve been reading a lot of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine lately, because for some reason their ridiculous plots and terrible characters are the only things that are bringing me any happiness these days. Shadyside is an awful place to live and it’s pretty amazing that any of its residents are still living at all, but their trials have taught me some valuable life lessons and now I’m here to share them with you.

  1. If you think it’s a dead body, it’s probably just a harmless household item, or a mannequin.
  2. If you have in any way broken the law, even if that lawbreaking involves murder, running away and never owning up to it is the best, most reasonable course of action. You don’t want to ruin your whole life over a silly mistake, after all, and probably no one will ever find out what you did otherwise.
  3. Stalking, controlling, clingy behavior should really get your engine revving. The creepier and more overbearing a boy is, the more he loves you. Or at least the better the makeouts will be.
  4. Speaking of makeouts, you should have them a lot. With anyone who wants to. Even if you’re dating someone, it’s okay if you just can’t help yourself and are forced to kiss someone else. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. And if it does, oh well, they should have known better than to spend a single second without you and there are many more fish in this terrible, terrible sea.
  5. Don’t call the police at all, ever. They’re useless. You’re probably just overreacting, anyway. What’s a little crime between friends?
  6. If you suspect someone of committing crimes or plotting to kill you, you should definitely still keep hanging around them. In fact, why not spend time alone with them in an isolated place? Nothing bad could happen.
  7. Girls with short hair are never destined for anything good. Long red hair is where it’s at.
  8. If you think you’ve uncovered a nefarious plot, a really great, foolproof plan is to go and confront the people who are plotting it. Once they know you’re onto them, they’ll have no choice but to just give up.
  9. Bullying leads to murder. Have you checked up on the people you used to bully in school? You should. They’re probably plotting to murder you right now.
  10. Mentally ill people are always delusional and violent. And they probably also want to murder you. Everyone probably wants to murder you. Your best friend, your boyfriend, your sister, that random guy on the street, everyone. Never trust anyone. But especially mentally ill people.
  11. Poor people, too. They’re pretty suspicious.
  12. If you’re a girl and you step foot outside your house, you’re going to be stalked. And that stalking is probably going to involve not-very-subtle chasing. Even in the middle of a sunny day, you’re not safe. Stalking. And chasing. Everywhere.
  13. No decent teenager in a relationship would ever do more than kiss, and maybe talk about their partner having a sexy bod, if they’re very daring.
  14. But sexual assault is cool if you can’t get the person you’re interested in to be in a relationship with you in the first place. They’ll appreciate it later. Or one of you will be dead.
  15. The number one rule of dating is: don’t. It will only lead to murder. Because everything leads to murder.
  16. The number two rule of dating is: if you’re going to insist on doing it, make sure you’re actually dating the person you think you are. The likelihood is that you’re not. They’re probably an evil twin, or a person with a dark secret. Involving murder. And you’re next.
  17. The number one rule of life is: if anyone annoys, wrongs, or in any way inconveniences you, murdering them is the only logical thing to do. It’s likely that you won’t even get a very heavy sentence for it.

I didn’t even touch on the lessons taught to us about blind people, all from one book, because that would be a whole post on its own.