I am a millennial. I am not drowning in my student loan debt.

In 2006, just months after graduating from high school, I stood in line for an hour at my university’s financial aid department, waiting to digitally sign a promissory note, stating… well, I don’t actually remember that part, because I was 18 and I didn’t read it. Legally, I wasn’t able to drink alcohol, own a gun, gamble in a casino, or run for public office, but I was allowed to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt… per semester… and they just trusted that I’d read the fine print.

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From 18-25, I went through the same annual process, spending approximately 45 minutes filling out paperwork, declaring that I understood what I was doing and the conditions thereof, in exchange for a direct deposit of thousands of dollars… wait for it… post-tuition. Despite the fact that “longitudinal neuroimaging studies demonstrate that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s,”* and the fact that it’s against federal law for a credit card company to give a card to anyone under 21, without steady income or a cosigner*, I was sixty thousand dollars in debt to the federal government, when I received my bachelor’s degree four years later. What was my desired career field, you might ask? Did I want to be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer? Nope. I wanted to be a home-ec teacher.

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Plenty of research has already proven that the human brain hasn’t fully matured until age 25, when the prefrontal cortex has fully developed.* This is not new information, either. The very fact that you must be 25, 30, and 35 to run for the House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and the Presidency, defends the point that the federal government has long been fully and accurately aware of the immaturity found in most 18-25-year-olds. Recent neuroscience simply backs up that decision. The government is offering a terrible deal to college students… and judging by the articles in my Google feed, it’s become pretty common knowledge.

Just this week, I’ve read about how Maine will offset the cost of student loans, through tax cuts, in an attempt to entice a younger population to relocate to the aging state. Several articles report that saving for retirement, buying a home, and having children are just a few of the major milestones being delayed by thirty-somethings “drowning” in student loan debt. To add insult to injury, Twitter is apparently full of Millennials, pissed at Hasbro for Millennial Monopoly’s blatant failure to capture their plight… which should surprise absolutely no one, when the company itself is run by a baby boomer, who brings in $7,000,000 annually. It’s everywhere, y’all… this news that student loan debt is ruining our lives!

Except, if we’re discussing federal student loans… they shouldn’t be, because our student loan system is a dreadful model, not just for borrowers, but for the federal government and by extension, the tax payers. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, only to find there were no teaching jobs available, I was able to immediately enter graduate school, extending my borrowing period by another three years… still three more shy of the 10 year cap. As was the case four years earlier, my major and intended field had no bearing on how much I was able to borrow. I chose librarianship, a field rarely more lucrative than teaching and much harder to break into, and the payout was another sixty thousand dollars in debt.

Why did I borrow so much? Well, not only was I going to school, during all those years, I was also going through some pretty weighty personal crises. Married at 19, I suffered a house fire less than a year later, an eviction and a total of ten moves in the next two years, a sociopathic partner who refused to work, a miscarriage, the death of my best friend’s infant daughter, and finally, a divorce… just as I entered grad school. After all that, a good portion of it was spent consolidating my debt; because, I did start thinking about the long term financial implications of borrowing so much, when my life settled down a bit, at 23.. I worked two jobs and took online classes, but graduate hours were so much more expensive than my undergrad hours, that each year I told myself it would be the last time I accepted the max… and it never was, until my last semester, at 25… the age when modern science says my brain had finally matured.

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Perhaps I’m fortunate to have been in school until the full development of my prefrontal cortex, because when I totaled my student loans and realized where I’d be after graduation, I started doing my research. For two years, I read up on debt consolidation and forgiveness programs like it was another course… which it should have been, because there was a lot of information out there. So, when I graduated at 25, I was prepared… fortunately, because the surprise semester that followed the failure of my graduate portfolio presentation ate up the six month grace period for repayment. I had approximately two months to send in all of my loan information for consolidation under an Income Based Repayment program, because they wouldn’t qualify if they were in default. Prior to consolidation, just two of my loans would’ve added up to $1,900 a month.

Once I was accepted for the IBR program, however, my monthly payments were $0. Working half time at the library and substitute teaching simply didn’t provide enough discretionary income to require a minimum payment. The following year, it only went up to $40. Only when I became a full time librarian was I expected to make a substantial payment, of about $300 a month… which went down when my family size increased with marriage and will go down again with each child we have. If I was drowning in anything, it was my private student loans, not my federal ones, which doesn’t seem to be the dominant complaint. Even so, my struggle with these was less about the monthly payment and more about the lack of impact, considering the interest rate. While my federal loans were also accumulating interest, I was able to sign up for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

You see, because I’m working as a public librarian, a lower paying position than many in the private sector, providing much needed services to the community, the government has struck a deal with me. If I work in public service for 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments, I can apply to have the remainder of my debt forgiven, tax free. While there are plenty of fear mongers writing narratives about how this won’t actually happen, there’s no research to actually back that up. Even the current administration has only suggested closing the doors on the program, not pulling the rug out from everyone already enrolled. In fact, I’ve actually already been grandfathered into my repayment program, as it only considers my income and the current ones consider the income of the entire household.

While many of those who have applied for forgiveness report being denied, it’s simply because they didn’t do their research or were given the wrong information, having enrolled in the program early. There is a catch to PSLF, in addition to a lower paying job: annual paperwork. Every year, I recertify my income for the IBR and my employment for verification that it qualifies. In exchange, I get an update on the number of eligible payments I’ve made, all but canceling out any chance that I’ll make the aforementioned mistakes.

Now, plenty of Millenials, with outstanding student loan debt, work in positions that don’t qualify for PSLF. The ones with smaller totals are paying them off as quickly as they can, to avoid interest charges and that’s undoubtedly the best approach. The rest, however, have their own option under an IBR, which is to apply for forgiveness after 20/25 years of payments, depending on when they signed up and under which program. This, however, is not tax free. That’s the only catch, beyond paying on these loans for so long.

Is this good for the federal government, for tax payers? Fuck no. This is a wretched, absolutely unsustainable model. Canceling PSLF seems like an obvious choice to some, but the core reasons are still valid. If there’s no incentive to do so, few lawyers and doctors will work in low paying public service jobs. Rural and poor urban areas won’t have teachers or librarians, the latter of which requires a master’s degree. Few will even enter into careers as police officers and EMT’s. Should all of these positions require advanced degrees? Absolutely not. Higher education, in many ways, is a total scam… but it’s a scam we’re still supporting in this country. While I hope to see more emphasis placed on technical degrees and apprenticeships and on-the-job training, more companies demanding applicants show them what they can do, as opposed to who taught them, we’re not there yet. I had to have my degree to do my job, a job I not only love and am lucky to be well-compensated for in my field, but one that makes a huge difference in the community.

I didn’t break any rules taking out my loans to get my degree and I’m not breaking any rules with my plans to receive loan forgiveness for working in my position. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to change the rules and prevent people from getting into these situations in the first place. We shouldn’t be giving teenagers tens of thousands of dollars to major in journalism or literature or education. We shouldn’t be letting people borrow for 10 years, if they’re not going into fields that can repay the debt. We shouldn’t be giving out thousands in direct deposits, after paying the schools, because my personal crises shouldn’t have been covered by the federal government. Some would say the government shouldn’t even be involved and private banks should have to compete for borrowers and choose what fields they invest their funds. Whatever the solution, students, the government, and tax payers are all getting screwed under this system, unquestionably. The only entity coming out on top is the universities, because as many economists agree, the reason tuition costs have risen so much is that colleges know their students can secure the funds through the federal government. Hopefully, future generations will boycott these institutions.

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In the meantime, though, no one should be “drowning” in federal student loan debt. If it’s that bad, follow these links, get out of default, do the paperwork to consolidate and get into an Income Based Repayment plan. Don’t be more the victim of this terrible system than you already have to be as an American tax payer. Take advantage of the fact that our truly fucking awful student loan system does favor the borrower, in some ways… while it still does.

PSLF – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service

PSLF application – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-application-for-forgiveness.pdf

Income Driven Plan information – https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/ibrInstructions.action
Citations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892678/

https://www.thebalance.com/credit-card-companies-love-college-students-960090

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051

https://www.businessinsider.com/age-brain-matures-at-everything-2017-11

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Blogiversary Number Six

It’s been six years, y’all. Six years ago, I celebrated my 25th birthday, while working two jobs, finishing up grad school, and becoming accustomed to experiencing the world both single and not 270 pounds. I had no idea what the future held and decided to begin chronicling it via blog. It was thrilling and absolutely terrifying.

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It was just like taking… caffeine pills? Is that really what was happening in this episode?
I owe my master’s degree to Five Hour Energy.

Here I am today, on my 31st birthday, working as a full time teen librarian (my dream job), married to my favorite person in the whole world, living in an entirely different city, writing my sixth birthday blog, from a home I own. Instead of hoping the next year might hold a guy who’s not a total douche or the fantasy that is just the one job, my wonderful husband and I are talking babies. There were times, at 25 or 26, when I would wake up and wonder if it would ever happen, if my life would ever start. Sure, in hindsight, I know that that time in my life was valuable, but I wanted more… and now I have it.

A lot can change in just a short time and at 31, it seems that life is moving wonderfully faster and faster. This blog has taken many forms, from the chronicles of a recovering divorcee, a grad student, an online dater, a librarian, a newlywed. Here’s to the many other forms it may take over the next six years, as I will continue to be the chronicler, the researcher, the ranter, the overanalyzer: The Belle of the Library.

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I was the kid who will ruin your school year.

As the library empties for two of our slowest months, I can’t help but reflect on my own childhood excitement as the school year approached. I suppose it’s no surprise that this present day librarian was unceasingly enthusiastic, kindergarten through senior year, about the first day of school. Even as a kid, I loved the fresh start of the new year, which when you’re eight, happens sometime toward the end of August, not the beginning of January. A new school year meant a new backpack and new crayons and new folders and notebooks. Just as neurotic as a child, I loved how clean everything was. All the crayons were freshly sharpened and there were no graphite smears on my kitten folders or tears in my new backpack. My new classroom was freshly decorated with fun themes that hadn’t yet faded into the background. I had a room full of potential friends awaiting me and I couldn’t wait to meet them and my new teacher.

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In the early years, when my mother put me in cute Disney-themed princess clothes, did my hair in pigtails, and helped me navigate the waters of childhood friendships, I imagine the feeling was mutual and that I blended in quite well with the rest of the class. I was too energetic and talkative to be the class pet, but I was well-liked and fit in with the other kids… until about halfway through the second grade. Indeed, it is a bittersweet realization, that as excited as I was to meet these new people every August, for the majority of my school years, they weren’t very excited to meet me.

I was eight when the shift occurred and you can actually see it in family photos. At the beginning of the school year, I was just an average kid. My clothes were never overly stylish, but no one’s were in the 90’s. I got in trouble on occasion, probably sitting out recess once a week or so, but I wasn’t a problem child. My parents weren’t helicopter parents, but they were involved and had me in after-school activities. As the year progressed, however, I gained weight, stopped bathing and brushing my teeth regularly, started wearing dirty clothes to school, and acting out. I once snapped at my teacher to stop calling our workbook by that name, because it was just a book and we weren’t babies. I made her so angry that she went to the classroom next door, grabbed a textbook, shoved it under my nose and told me that this was a textbook and that it was much harder… to which I rolled my eyes.

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That was the year I began picking on other children, ruling my friendships through fear of being on my bad side. I continued to do so in third grade and by fourth, when the district transferred me to a new school, I don’t imagine I had any friends who would miss me. I wore a dress on my first day of fourth grade, because I wanted to look nice and fit in, but had no concept or understanding of how to do so. Overweight and the victim of unfortunate genetics, I should have been wearing both deodorant and a bra, but wore neither. I made my teacher a present, because I just really wanted her to like me and I thought that a pickle jar full of Easter grass with her name on it was the key. It was not. She didn’t like me. I smelled. I was bossy. I was a bully. I made good grades and always turned in my work, but I was absolutely the kid in the class that every teacher seems to have, who keeps the year from being perfect. I was a hall kid, sent out for interrupting and mouthing off, for picking on other children and bossing them around. By fifth grade, I was no better.

I ate fast food every night and put on more and more weight. My fifth grade teacher blanched when she bought KFC for everyone as a reward and I asked for my usual of two breasts and a leg, something I wouldn’t order now. I was fat and I was mean. By middle school, I had few friends and anyone who rejected me was the recipient of my own cruel bullying, like the boy who didn’t like me back… who I threw soda on at a school dance, or the girl he did like, about whom I spread rumors. It wasn’t just one teacher who dreaded having me in their class, anymore. It was seven.

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What none of those teachers knew, of course, was that second grade was the year my parents began spending every evening fighting in the garage. There were no more family dinners at the table and my Gramma brought us fast food nearly every night, in an attempt to bring some happiness and normalcy back into our world. That was the year my mother stopped washing my clothes on the regular and checking to make sure I was bathing myself and brushing my teeth, because I was eight and incapable of taking care of myself.

Third grade was the year my dad snapped at me that I stank and was disgusting for not wearing deodorant, the first time anyone had mentioned I should and still, neither parent helped me to remember consistent and proper hygiene. It was the year I got lice on Thanksgiving and my aunt bought me my first training bra for Christmas, because my mother hadn’t thought of it.

Fourth grade was the year I decided to sleep in my clothes each night, so I wouldn’t have to get up early to get dressed and went to school sweaty, rumpled and tired. It was the year my mother took us to Disney World alone, because my father refused to go. I hit puberty that year, before the other girls, and was embarrassed that I needed to shave my legs and confused about why I had hair in other places that only grownups did. No one had told me it was normal, so I shaved it with a secret shame. I still have the scar from where I shaved my arms, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. That was the year that the golden boy everyone liked began to bully me relentlessly when no one was watching. When I told the school counselor, she didn’t believe me. 

I’m sure my teacher knew about my mother’s brain surgery in the 5th grade, followed closely by her grand mal seizure, during which I called the ambulance, myself. I doubt she knew my father left a month later and that my mother got me up at midnight every night to pray over a statue of Saint Thomas Moore that she buried in the flower bed, as if it were a magic spell that would bring my father home. She was convinced it had worked, when he returned a week later… and devastated when it didn’t after he moved out for good and took my brother with him, leaving me alone with her. That Christmas break, I broke my arm and my father refused to take me to the ER, dragged me to see Patch Adams in theaters and yelled at me for falling asleep. Despite being a nurse, my mother didn’t stand up to him. It wasn’t until two days later that my Gramma told her they could take me to the hospital or she could take me… and they discovered my arm was broken in two places. That was the year the other girls told me it was gross that my tongue was completely white, because I didn’t brush my teeth. I got my Gramma to buy me a new toothbrush, chose medium bristles instead of soft, and went home and brushed until my tongue and gums bled.

When middle school started, I couldn’t understand why my old friends, no longer forced to include me, had chosen not to do so. After a boy told me my shirt was too tight, early in the year, I wore a jacket every single day to cover my disgustingly fat arms. The boy down the street, who had chased me and kissed me on the playground in the first grade, now threw rocks at me when I took my dog for a walk. When the popular boys at school were over at his house, they joined in… even the ones who were usually nice to me. It was in the 6th grade that I started cutting myself. In the 7th, my mother told my father that she’d only get back together with him if I agreed. When I didn’t, he refused to come to my birthday party and we didn’t speak for several months. That was the year my mother started hitting me. That was the year I started sucking my thumb again. It wasn’t until the next year that my mother told me unspeakable lies about my father molesting me, to keep me from leaving her abuse for him. I wouldn’t speak to him again until my senior year of high school.

For most of my formative years, when my crushes, my friends, and even my teachers didn’t like me back, there was no one around to teach me how to handle the disappointment, the rejection, because my parents were too busy with their own drama… and it wasn’t until 8th grade that I was able to somewhat navigate these interactions for myself. Until then, no one liked me at school. No one liked me at home… except, perhaps, for my Gramma. No matter how angry and hateful I was, no matter how badly I smelled, no matter how dirty and mismatched and unstylish, I always had a warm hug from Gramma and that was my saving grace.

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In the next month, as I’m introduced to my new after school crowd at the library, I’m going to remember the angry, smelly bully I once was. I’m going to recall how much it hurt to be so disliked by everyone, how devastating it was to try to face it all alone… and I’ll remind myself that not all of those kids are going to be blessed with a saintly Gramma… to insist someone take them to the ER, to hold them when the bullies make them cry, to buy them toothbrushes and new bras. This fall, I’m going to try to remember that these aren’t the kids who keep my year from being perfect, but the ones who give my professional life the most meaning… because the smelly kid, the bully, the girl in the ill-fitting dress… they look to us, their teachers and librarians and school counselors, to be the few people who want them. I’m going to remember that it is so hard to be unwanted. We are their safe haven. We give them hope that things will be better, when no one else does.

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The Blessing and Curse of a Near Perfect Memory

When I was two and a half, my mother enrolled me in a Catholic preschool. I remember playing with the toys, while she signed me up and I remember going every day. I remember the stern, black nun, holding my hand. I remember thinking that black people must sweat a lot, because her hands were sweaty and at age two, I hadn’t spent a lot of time with people of color. I remember when Santa came to visit the preschool. He brought me a Fisher-Price drum and I wore a dress with Scottish terriers on it, because #90skid.

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I saw Jurassic Park in theaters when I was five years old. I was so scared that I tucked my head into my teal and purple Aladdin t-shirt for the majority of the movie, and sat in my mother’s lap, terrified. That same summer, I saw Hocus Pocus with my Gramma, who hid an entire sleeve of gas station brownies under her coat, because she’d do anything for her grandkids, no matter how ridiculous… and just like Jurassic Park, I saw little of the movie with my face hidden in said coat the entire time.

When I started kindergarten, my mother wasn’t able to take me to school on my first day, so the weekend before, she had me don my First Day Outfit, did my hair, and loaded up my backpack. She took me to the school and had me walk up to the locked doors while she took pictures and had me pose in front of the school, insisting that years from now, I’d never remember it wasn’t really the first day of school.

For much of my life, it’s been a running joke that I remember everything, with friends and family and coworkers, but only in the last few years have I realized that I truly have a capacity for memory beyond what is normal. Though I’m sure I could map out our trailer house from when I was five, I don’t think it qualifies as an eidetic/photographic memory. You see, I can vividly recall far more than just imagery. I don’t just remember when my grandfather died right after I turned five. I remember being confused about why we had to bury him, instead of just propping him up at family events and pretending he was still alive. I remember asking if we could keep the body and my parents (probably confused and a little creeped out by the question), telling me it was illegal. I remember reasoning, in my five-year-old brain, that we could hide grandpa in the hamper if the police came, because that was the best hiding place in the house. I remember I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral, because I was too young, but considering these other thoughts, I think it might have helped me to understand.

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I could go on and on about the detailed thoughts and feelings and conversations and events of my childhood, despite the fact that many people tell me they don’t really have memories before the age of 7, but these aren’t the only years I remember with such clarity. I can recount, verbatim, entire conversations and events from middle school and high school. I can precisely quote multiple nights out with friends in my early twenties. I can remember what I wore, what Jake wore, which side of the table we both sat on, what we talked about, on our first date, our second date, our third date. While it is, indeed, a blessing in many ways, in others… well, not so much.

I am the best at arguments.

“Don’t you tell me that the last movie we saw in theaters was a Belle Movie, when I remember perfectly well that it was absolutely a Jake Movie. I did not want to see it just as badly as you did and in fact, I told you that it had bad reviews… and come to think of it, the one before that was also a Jake Movie, so you don’t just owe me one Belle Movie, but two.”

“I asked you nicely four times on four separate occasions to go through your mail, before I threatened to throw it all in the trash, so don’t act like I’m being unreasonable. It was so four. I asked on Thursday, when you came home for your lunch, before I went to work. I asked on Friday before dinner. I asked yesterday after work and I asked this morning, when we got up.”

“Two months ago, you agreed that the next time we went to a rodeo, if the Christmas store was open, we could go there first. Just because you didn’t think it would be open in September, that doesn’t mean you aren’t bound by your promise, mister.”

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I get embarrassed/angry/stressed out about interactions that no one else even remembers.

In the 11th grade, someone called me “squinty-eyed.” Sometimes, I’ll randomly wonder, 15 years later: Am I squinty-eyed? Was it just my contacts? Did Lasik fix it? Is it just my face?

I still remember, with perfect clarity, what it felt like to be 270 pounds, at 22. I remember that no one was ever cruel to me, because they saw right through me, like the time the video store clerk called to the man behind me, that they could take the next person in line. I remember looking around a college classroom and realizing that I was the fattest person in the room. I remember staring at myself naked and thinking that I didn’t even look like a woman anymore. I remember paying more for plus-sized clothing, being hot all the time, not being able to breathe, my feet constantly hurting, and every time I gain five pounds, I fear I’ll wake up right back there.

Catherine once said, about her best friend, “She’s just being a bitch, because she can’t get pregnant.” At my 30th birthday party, she went on and on about how Laura was crazy and her kids were afraid of her and Catherine was going to change her own locks so Laura couldn’t get into her house. Gail didn’t even remember these conversations, but every now and then, it really pisses me off that Catherine acted like was the only Mean Girl in that group of Mean Girls and I’m sure it still will in 10 years.

Last Christmas, Jake’s cousin and his wife wore matching Willie Nelson Christmas shirts. I made a reference to Duck Dynasty, not because I didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, but because the shirt made me think of it. I still stress out over the idea that Jake’s very country family thinks I can’t identify Willie Nelson.

I’m more introspective and focused on self-improvement.

It’s a lot easier to acknowledge a need for change, when you can vividly remember every shitty thing you’ve ever said or done. I think, for people with average memories, it’s easier to put these things off on others, claim that someone else started the conversation or told that secret or made that joke. I, however, can remember all of the times I  found a reason to mock people I didn’t even know, to be catty about family and friends, and how I used Facebook as a visual aid… and I can remember how often other people did it, too, that this was normal social behavior.

These glaring recollections are the reason I did away with social media and this behavior entirely… and my perfect memory is the reason I can see how much my life has changed. I remember how much time I used to spend staring at my phone, talking about people I didn’t know or care about, and how ugly my comments tended to be, as a result. I remember that I talked about people instead of ideas and instead of doing things I actually found fulfilling, like reading, writing, crafting, and spending time with my husband and family.

Though my escape from social media has been hugely impactful, even just my innate ability to acknowledge that I’m guilty of being hypocritical or impulsive or lazy, helps me to improve. When I see the statistic that only 37% of Christians attend church weekly, it’s much harder for me to convince myself that I’m following my faith. When I tell my husband that we need to start spending less, it’s not as easy to ignore the $10 I spent at the gas station on beef jerky, or that book I bought on my Kindle. When I get frustrated that I haven’t been successful at losing weight, I can’t deny that it’s because I’ve been sneaking ice cream and candy all week.

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I have more trouble moving on.

As I get older, I realize that there are seasons in life and it is perfectly natural and healthy to drift from one to another… but I think I struggle with it more than some. When I was 24, my whole world revolved around school and Gail and my guy friends… until my guy friends and I started to move in different directions. Gradually, they stopped inviting me to do things with them, and didn’t make the same effort to keep up with me. At the time, I had to find fault in them doing so, telling myself that they were jealous of my academic and career success or that they didn’t want to move forward with their own lives, so they resented me for doing so. Now, I realize that we were all just growing and it was okay to do so in different directions.

Today, I find the same has happened with Gail and I. What was once a relationship that defined me as a person is now comprised of sporadic text messages and the rare meet up at the mall for lunch. It’s not that either of us is truly at fault, so much as it is that we live on opposite sides of the city and Gail has grown passionate about veganism and travel and charity, while I’m further on the traditional path for which I always longed; buying a home, having babies, getting involved with my conservative church, connecting with my siblings and their spouses. While I’m sure we’ll always be connected in some way, it’s still hard for me to move forward, without Gail, when our lives were once so entwined. I so clearly remember having lunch several times a week, texting each other throughout the day, discussing every decision, big or small, with her, and its unlikely that that’s what our future relationship holds.

I’d imagine the same will be true when my dog has to be put down, or my Gramma passes, or my children grow up, or my dad dies. While I think these trials are tough for anyone, I think I remember life’s stages more vividly and while that’s nice when you’re looking back fondly, it also makes for some much more painful longing.

It makes me better at my job.

“They should know better.” I hear this so many times a week, in my job as Teen Librarian and each and every time, my response is “Why?” Everyone expects to have to explain behavioral and social norms to children, but never to teens. Teens should “know better.” I remember being confused as to why I suddenly went from cute to annoying, sassy to mouthy. I remember every conversation being colored with patronizing tones and preachy, subjective religious stances. I remember adults refusing to speak to me like I was a person with feelings, capable of extreme embarrassment and regret and heartache, because “teenagers are stupid”… and it makes me a lot better at my job.

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Just yesterday, I sat in the teen area at work, talking to my kids, when a woman came back and rudely snapped “You guys don’t have your own room, you know.” I firmly replied “This actually is their space,” to which she responded that we were being really loud. No, we weren’t. The building is just stupidly designed in a way that funnels sound into the computer area. “We can be quieter, but this is the teen area.” I don’t think anyone ever championed me like that as a teenager and that just made me angrier and it made my life harder. My ability to remember exactly what it felt like to be 15 makes me so much better at my job.

Nostalgia hits me harder.

It’s a good thing I’m so happy with my life, y’all, because sometimes, I really miss being 16 years old, riding around with Gail and Malik. I remember my 17th birthday party so vividly, giggling as we played a pathetically PG version of “strip Twister,” when we were all virgins, who’d never been kissed, before any of us were divorced or addicted to drugs or had babies that died. I remember life before any of us made any real mistakes and I remember how it felt to have all of those decisions ahead of me. Thirty seemed so far away and I pictured my life so differently… because I couldn’t comprehend how great my life could be if I spread things out a little more, but I miss that naivety.

From what I understand, most people have vague impressions of childhood, their teen years, and even now their twenties… but I remember it all in extreme detail.

I remember my mother making me birthday pancakes every year, before school, even though she worked full time as a nurse. I remember how she volunteered for every field trip and put little green foot prints all over the bathroom on St. Patrick’s Day.

I remember, when I was 9, how my best friend teamed up with a boy down the street to lock me in a van and beat the crap out of me, because she didn’t know how to tell me she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I remember not telling my mother about it, when she picked me up, and how much it hurt that she was too distracted with her own life to notice something was wrong.

I remember my middle school crush and how horrible it felt that he didn’t like me back. I remember the embarrassment when his friends made fun of me. I remember how relentlessly I bullied him in revenge.

I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, making nerdy jokes and having spinning contests, finally feeling accepted and welcome. I remember how much I loved those friends, who I no longer know and I miss them… not the 30-year-olds, but the 15-year-olds.

I remember the black cat I had as a teenager and how heartbroken I was the day she died, along with all of my other pets in the fire set by my ex. I remember exactly how the charred house smelled and the feel of warm water on my pants and I tried to salvage what I could. I remember everything about that day and exactly how horrible it felt.

I remember Grace, Gail’s daughter, and how much I loved her and how hard it was saying goodbye. I remember Gail and I leaning on each other during the hardest times in our lives and I miss that bond.

I remember being single and free to do as I wished, crafting and reading and Netflixing all night, and eventually waking to a feeling of emptiness and longing for my life to start.

I remember the uncertainty I felt in dating my husband. Was I texting too much or too little, did he really like me as much as I liked him, should I play hard to get, was I really as awkward as I thought I was and did he care? Yes and no, by the way. I remember the first time I told him I loved him and how badly I wanted to take it back, because it made me so vulnerable and I remember falling in love with him all over again a dozen times. I remember his proposal and the joy I felt walking down the aisle to him.

For better or worse, it seems I really do remember it all… and there are no rose colored glasses with a memory so clear.

What No One Tells You About Being a Grownup

I’m not sure when it happened, y’all. Was it my master’s degree, a full time job, health insurance, marriage, turning 30, buying a house? Maybe it was the combination of all of the above, but I recently realized that for the first time in my life, I feel like a grownup.

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I waited for this epiphany for the entirety of my twenties and was ultimately convinced that the concept of “adulthood” was, like the horizon, an imaginary line that recedes as you near it. For me, it wasn’t just about self-sufficiency, but generally just having my life together. I didn’t just want to be able to work and pay my bills. I wanted to build something, a career, savings, a family. Perhaps because millennials openly abhor adulthood, the concept had begun to feel like a fantasy. Then, after Jake and I bought our house, life began to settle and the topic of children came up again, as it does from time to time, more so lately. Out of habit, I defaulted to my usual internal monologue of “Kids? I can barely take care of myself right… wait.”

Zetus lapetus, y’all, that’s not true anymore! It is a rare day when I feel like I need to get a more grownup grownup to handle my problems! For years, my dad and I have had an unspoken agreement that if I called crying, he’d give me money, as long as I didn’t abuse the privilege or require… you know, emotional support, because that’s awkward and messy. It’s been almost three years since I’ve had to play that card! It’s real you guys! That magical place called adulthood actually exists… and here are some of the things that no one ever told me about living in this fantasy world.

My tastes have changed.

As a kid, I hated avocado. It’s now a weekly staple. While I’m still not the biggest pasta person, I can appreciate a cup of Ramen, where once it tasted like nothing, as long as it’s the spicy kind… even though I could barely handle cinnamon gum 10 years ago. I enjoy fancy teas and black coffee. I like sappy romance movies and the occasional Hallmark channel and Lifetime shows. A registered Democrat at 21, my political views have drastically shifted, as have my religious views and my thoughts on various social issues. Whereas once, I thought my tastes were an integral part of me, I now know they’re ever changing and I’ll never stop trying new things.

My financial outlook has morphed.

Once upon a time, I joked that I’d know I arrived when I could afford to buy my panties by the pair, instead of by the package. Well folks, that day has come… and I’m still wearing Hanes. At 24, with a pantry full of generic Spaghetti O’s, a hatchback that rattled like a can full of bolts, and my favorite dress from Goodwill, I felt like security meant stuff. If I could buy the things, it meant I could pay the bills. Now, as a real live grownup, I still buy generic. I still buy in multi-packs. I still shop at Aldi and Ross. I eat at home, almost never eating out and when I mentioned that to my family recently, they thought it meant I had money troubles. On the contrary, because we’re frugal, we know we can afford our mortgage, build an emergency savings, pay off our zero interest credit card before the deadline. Where once I thought having “arrived” meant you could see it from the car I drive, I now know that I can feel it in the lack of car payment.

Being too ambitious is a thing.

I’ve had some miserable years in my adult life, and I won’t begin to pretend that my year in management was one of them, but fuuuuuuuck, I hated it. Desperately needing full time, I was so excited to take on a position described as 80% librarian, 20% supervisor, only to realize that it was, in fact, more like 80% librarian and 100% supervisor. While I love the idea of building people up, making them better at their jobs, serving the community in a more profound way, I cannot tell grownups to do the base level requirements of their jobs, on a daily basis. The entirety of my life as a supervisory librarian was meetings about meetings. It was explaining to 25-year-old pages that they had to show up when scheduled and couldn’t wear their jammies to work. It was listening to my boss, Brett, quote managerial podcasts about labeling employees to better “handle” them. It was supporting policies I didn’t agree with to my direct reports, to prevent complete and utter anarchy. It was crying in my living room, because I hated my job and I went to school for seven years to do so. It was sheer envy toward the teen librarian who got to do what I’d always wanted to do, when I thought that ship had sailed.

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Stepping down from my management position was one of the hardest decisions of my professional life. I was told by people below me, above me, and laterally that I was great at it. The director himself told me he didn’t want me to step down, that he wanted me to run my own library one day. Even I knew that I was a force for good, in it for the right reasons, eager to treat people like humans, instead of going by some new managerial standard, be it True Colors or Strengths Finder. People need that in management. But I needed something else. I needed to be happy in my career. I needed to feel like I was changing the world, not just talking about changing the world. I was shocked to realize that upward momentum was not the only golden ticket. I could be amazing at a mid-level job… and I could be a lot happier.

My social life has been consolidated.

I used to be quite the social butterfly, even if it were in an introverted sense, via social networking. I knew everything about everyone, was hip to all the gossip. I would spend hours chatting with random people from high school, via messenger, and even met up with them in person a few times, just to catch up. I had acquaintances, work friends, and close friends. I was immediately available to every single one of them, too… until the day I realized how exhausting it had become. What had, at one time, fueled my extrovert side, was wearing me out. I realized that I didn’t have the energy to keep up with my marriage, family, work relationships, and the other connections in my life that mattered, if I was constantly stressed out about what some friend from high school thought of me, what my extended family was saying about me at the family party I couldn’t attend, whether or not people found my Facebook posts funny or my arguments intelligent.

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Today, my world is much smaller. I keep my friends local, preferably limited to people I know through work or church, so we have built in opportunities to spend time together and easy conversation topics. Instead of chasing relationships I should have let go of long ago, I’m building bonds with my step-siblings and Jake’s family. My marriage is stronger, since I’m not constantly checking my phone for a message from that girl from elementary school who’s a foster mom now and the friend from 11th grade who’s in a poly relationship. I talk to and connect with my husband more, sharing my stories with him instead of the world… and it doesn’t make me less interesting or dynamic. It just makes me more energized and happier.

My timeline changed drastically.

Y’all, sixteen-year-old Belle would be devastated to hear that 30-year-old Belle doesn’t have kids yet. She wouldn’t even be satisfied with new kids, but would expect, like, school age children, because in the South, that’s what you do. You get married at 22, buy a “starter home” that you still can’t afford, and have all your babies by 26. Your husband ultimately goes into oil to keep up with this lifestyle, as you both begin to realize what you missed around the time you turn 30. You give it another five years before you file for divorce, just as your children are entering their teen years and need you the most. If they’re lucky, they have a public library within walking distance, staffed by a teen librarian willing to give them hugs and hear about their problems, because you’re all selfish assholes.

giphy1Ahem.

If the latter doesn’t happen, the former is still tradition around here. You marry before 25 or you’re breaking the mold and no one knows what to say to you at Christmas. Even when I divorced, feeling as though I were too old to start over (at twenty-fucking-three, mind you), I assumed I’d be working full time in the next year or so, fall in love, and be engaged or married again by 26. What no one told me, however, is that growing up is a marathon, not a sprint. None of the people in the above scenario were any more advanced than I. Most of them were just more comfortable with their place on the conveyor belt, taking on roles before they were ready, often with the wrong people. If you think I’m jaded, just look at where we rank in divorce statistics.

I didn’t just press the reset button on my relationships at 23. After finishing my degree in education, I started at the bottom in an unrelated field, embarking on an additional three years of schooling to advance. Ultimately, at 25, I was where my high school classmates had been three years earlier; in my career, my financial standing, and my personal life… and that was okay. More than okay, actually, it was fantastic. I had a great time in my twenties and, as I’ve mentioned before, I still enjoy recapturing those days when Jake’s gone for a weekend. Now, at 30, I’m exactly where I always wanted to be. I just took the scenic route and now I’ll always have those memories. I’ll know what the grass looks like on the other side, because I took the time to visit it when I was supposed to and I’ll be able to truly enjoy my future adventures, knowing I didn’t give up my past ones to have them earlier.

My limits for my future aren’t as firmly set.

On our third date, I told Jake I was never leaving the Metro, in part because libraries are such a volatile field. Depending on their funding model, many libraries are cutting staff, hiring only part time, even closing their doors. I was very clear that I’d never give up my place in such a strong library system once I got full time and that’s still true… mostly.

I never thought I’d love someone enough to consider leaving my home, my family, my career… and then there was Jake. We’ve been married for one year now and I’ve realized that, if it would make him truly happy, I would be willing to discuss moving to his home state to run the family ranch. It would completely uproot my life, require home schooling our children and only allow for a part-time job, if that. I’d be hours from my family and friends and I’d have to watch animals die on the regular. Even six months in, my response to this scenario would’ve been “no fucking way”…. but now we’re married and I’d be willing to have that conversation.

I am still me, but we’re also we, and I’m willing to consider sacrifices I never thought I’d make. Jake left oil for me, paid off many of my debts, lives much closer to the city than I think he would on his own, and I realize that it’s not just about me anymore and my plans are a bit more fluid than they were five years ago. It seems, there might be many more things I haven’t discovered about being a grownup.

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Teenagers are Starved

… for attention, structure, and loving authority figures. It’s not always reflected through school shootings, stabbings on behalf of Slenderman, or torturing animals in YouTube videos, either. Those are just the most sensational stories. No, more often than not, it’s young girls sending nude photos to boys, so they’ll keep talking to them. It’s 5th grade boys vaping so the older kids will think they’re cool. It’s widespread porn addiction, because they don’t understand how their bodies work or what these feelings mean and they have all the stimulation they could possibly desire in their pockets. It’s indiscriminate sexual experimentation, before they’re old enough to handle the physical and emotional complications. It’s the expectation that the latter will look like the former, because no one is talking to them.

While many have spent the past week, arguing about gun control with strangers online, as opposed to… I don’t know, looking at cat videos and posting photos of their coffee, like they do the rest of the time, their children are still floundering. The country is positively baffled as to why kids act the way they do and not one of them realize that we’re so busy arguing with each other, that none of us are actually guiding teenagers. Adolescence is one of the most confusing times in a person’s life and it always has been. The hot debates of gun control, bullying, and sexual education aren’t new. Mean Girls and body shaming aren’t new. Teenage boys using teenage girls and telling the whole school isn’t new. What is new, is the constant distraction in the lives of everyone who is supposed to care for these kids.

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Today, if parents aren’t too busy swiping left and right on dating apps, rediscovering themselves after the divorce, then they’re on Facebook, debating car seat safety and vaccines with someone from high school that they don’t even know or like. They’re thumbing through Pinterest recipes in the drive through line, instead of talking to their children about their day while sliding a frozen lasagna in the oven. It’s not entirely their fault, either. We live in a society that shares everything from day altering information, such as school closures, to life altering information, such as engagements and the deaths of loved ones, via social networking. If you delete Facebook and Pinterest, you’re considered antisocial or an isolationist, and I should know, here in my fourth month without either.

Dad: “You know your uncle’s mom died, though.”
Me: “Nope… not on Facebook”
Dad: “Oh, that’s right! Well, your uncle’s mom died.”

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It’s not just parents who’ve detached, either. Teachers, once a source of love and affection, are now so petrified of ending up on the news, that they won’t even hug their students… and that’s if they even have the time to connect with them emotionally, after the ludicrously detailed lesson planning, IEP meetings, and professional development days. The same is true of youth ministers and counselors and even librarians. Keep the door open and keep your hands to yourself or risk destroying your life.

As a result of our collective detachment from our youth, teens test boundaries, just as they always have, but… they find none. They use their phones in class and their teachers don’t dare confiscate them, for fear of parental wrath. Whereas once it was enough to be able to call the school and leave an important message for one’s child, we must now have instant access to everyone in our lives, just in case we realize they’ve deleted our DVR’d episodes of The Bachelor and we want to share our unhappiness. The reverse is true as well. Even 10 years ago, a child who forgot his homework would have to beg his teacher for an extension and ultimately learn to be more responsible; now he can text mom and beg her to drop it off on her only break. If she doesn’t, then lord have mercy on the teacher who dares to grade him down for it, teaching him only that there are no limits, no consequences.

It’s cyclical, even. We’re all so very exhausted, because we refuse to acknowledge the emotional energy expended in keeping up with 153 friends, and 12 different news feeds, that we relish the moments the young ones in our lives are distracted by technology, plugging them in the second they can respond to an iPad, in part because it’s a societal norm. As a result, we don’t see what it’s doing to them until it’s too late and we feel powerless to police their usage after years of such access and the privacy that came with the adults not caring what was on the screen, if it would only keep them quiet. As a result, such personal technology has become ubiquitous in middle school and beyond, so the parent who does refuse to gift their child with a smartphone, hobbles them academically, when every other student in class has internet access and therefore, the lesson plans begin to require it. No exaggeration, I never used my undergrad to teach in an official capacity, but I substitute taught in over 100 different classrooms in six years and increasingly saw kids without devices at a clear disadvantage.

This past Christmas, my five-year-old nephew spent all of dinner longing for Minecraft on his iPad, completely disinterested in the prospect of family time or even presents, because of technology and that’s the norm, with kids and their parents. We are wasting our lives staring at screens and teaching children to do the same. We spend hours a week keeping up with people we neither know nor care about, arguing with people whose opinions will never change, occasionally even finding ourselves in affairs with our marriages in shambles, as a result of an effort to feel another superficial connection, because we have no real connections in our lives and while we’re undoubtedly suffering as well, our kids are most definitely suffering. I say ours, because they are ours. Every society is judged on how it’s weakest and most impressionable members are treated and while we argue with each other online about the ways we’ve failed them, we are continuing to fail them.

I’m not asking anyone for perfection or even claiming to know what that looks like. I’m not insisting you can’t have a healthy relationship with technology, simply that many do not and the teachers, youth ministers, librarians, or other supportive authority figures aren’t capable of truly picking up the slack. Restore the balance, put down your phone/tablet/laptop, and ask the kids in your life about their day, because the general struggles of youth aren’t new, but being completely ignored by the adults in their lives who are supposed to care is… and perhaps if our children can go home from a hostile environment to a warm and involved one, once again, they’ll learn to cope with their emotions in non-hostile ways. As an advocate for teens and a former neglected teen, I am telling you, no matter how flawed we might all be, the most important thing we can possibly do for these kids is be present and force them to be present.

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A Librarian’s Reminder of Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting the Fifty Shades Series

Fifty Shades Freed is officially in theaters. This means, of course, that bloggers and reviewers are rushing to be the first and cleverest to insult the series and anyone who enjoys it… despite the fact that there exists no comparable male term to the literary genres of “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” or the film genre of “chick flick.” I can give my professional word that the former is not because men only read weighty historical tomes, either. So, in the spirit of such sexism, I remind you of the ways you tend to offend women, as a whole, by insulting the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

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Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and I once showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, itself, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”

I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:
Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien twins who formed their penises into one giant penis. One of the most well-read women I’ve ever met has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I also devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch The Bachelor or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people had to Google “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

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Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

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When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my psychotic ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books, Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.
Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active must be asexual or worse, somehow abnormal. Until two years ago (exactly, oddly enough), I not had sex in six years. Furthermore, I’d only kissed five people, ever, and that includes a stranger who pecked me on the cheek on New Year’s Eve. I am not asexual, far from it. I was just never interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I saw no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut, perhaps more so.


Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While literary Christian Grey sure wasn’t my dreamboat (I found his movie persona far less abrasive), I can tell you that when I was treading water in a dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it wasn’t so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together, to take charge, to be assertive. While I’ll admit that for an America drowning in debt, financial freedom might be it’s own fantasy, I’m still not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is the sole appeal of the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience. This article suggests a somewhat circular logic for the over 30 bracket, in particular: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends (not television trends, which explains the dated Carrie Bradshaw reference). This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new and it’s unsurprising that it’s a fantasy growing in popularity, in a society full of over overgrown frat boys who couldn’t be assertive or successful if their futures depended on it, which they do.

Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice… and it’s a complete double standard, because no one shames men for fantasizing about winning the lottery and becoming wealthy beyond their wildest dreams through no effort on their part. At least the women fantasizing about Christian Grey and the like also dream of love.

Note: I was known, at one time, to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.
Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call shenanigans. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the spine injury. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What year is it? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, like Sylvia Day’s Bared to You, with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them, because adult women are allowed to be sexual too.

  • I originally posted the this blog on March 5, 2015. It has been updated for currency.

Cheering for the Underdog: the Frustrations of a Teen Librarian

I’m a married, thirty-year-old woman, with a degree in education, who has every intention of having her own children… and I don’t like kids.

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That statement is usually met with confusion or melodramatic horror. How could you not like kids?!?! Well… like this.

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I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library. Children are trying, yo. At best, any cuteness they possess is canceled out by the fact that they talk incessantly about things that do not interest me in the least and they don’t understand my sense of humor. I simply can’t relate to them. At worst, they’re loud, demanding, rude, have no respect for personal space, and everything they say is spoken through a whine. I’m not allowed to correct them, even when they’re disrupting the entire library, because it’s assumed that everyone thinks the above is adorable… mostly by the helicopter mom with her $200 blonde bob and insistence that the only reason her angel is screaming like Veruca Salt, while tearing books off my shelf, is because she has “extremely high functioning Asperger’s.”

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That’s not a legitimate diagnosis in the DSM-5 and hasn’t been since 2013. You Googled that. Poorly.

In fact, in defense of children as a whole, I understand that they’re still learning: to cope with their emotions, to use their manners, to moderate their voices. I get that it’s completely normal and healthy for a child to have a tantrum at the grocery store, because they can’t always have their way; at church, because sitting still is hard; at Christmas, because they’re just overwhelmed. I don’t hold that against children and it I’m still confident I want my own. I just don’t want to be around other people’s children; and I do hold it against some parents that they have a complete and utter disregard for the fact that there are absolutely settings in which it is entirely acceptable to assume they will require their children to behave or remove them, such as at a nice movie theater or restaurant, the ballet, church, the library. I’d estimate that a good third of my frustration with children can actually be blamed, not on the fact that they’re present, but on the fact that no one corrects them. Regardless of my reasoning, if I tell you that I don’t like children, I’m a monster. You know who everyone’s allowed to vocally berate at top volume, though? Teens.

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That’s right. I’m expected to understand that children are precious little gifts from God, no matter how much they annoy me. I’m supposed to get over it if your child starts screaming at the ballet, because babies exist and for some reason they have to do it near me during The Nutcracker; something I guarantee I will understand even less when I’ve gone through the trouble to get a sitter of my own, so I can enjoy some child free entertainment. In the South, I’m a biological disgrace to my gender, because I haven’t had “baby fever” for the last ten years… but the rest of American society gets to hate on teenagers, like they’re white millennials wearing leggings as pants and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, while they read Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s cool to hate teenagers… and that is complete and utter trash.

My dream job has always been teen librarian. My title has not. I began my first full time supervisory librarian position specializing in adults and so, when I stepped down from management, it was an adult position that was available for me at the Jackson branch. Sadly, it seemed my ship had sailed on teen librarianship… that was until our grassroots restructuring, last spring, when a specialization was demanded from everyone, and I threw my own managers for a loop by taking a chance and adamantly declaring that teens, not adults, were my jam.

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Since then, I’ve been the teen librarian for all five of our satellite libraries, primarily stationed at the central hub of the Cherokee branch; and I’m admittedly under-qualified for the dream job, into which I was mapped and transferred. I have wonderful mentors, but I can’t deny that, if I had actually applied for such a position, I wouldn’t have even been interviewed, with only my substitute teaching and bachelor’s degree as related experience. What I can affirm, however, is that my passion for teens would probably have ranked higher than that of most applicants. Whereas everyone else thinks the Ramona Quimby’s and Scout Finches are just precious, I love teenagers; from Carrie White, to Hermione Granger, to Ponyboy Curtis, to Cher Horowitz, to Regina George, I love them all… and just like the Little Orphan Annie’s and Matilda’s they need a champion, because when you’re a teenager, most of the adults in your life are jerks.

When they come to me, my library kids have just started middle school. They’re excited for the pending teenage years, when they suddenly realize, the understanding that was demanded on their behalf just three years ago, has completely vanished… but only for them, not for their younger siblings or the other kids in the library, the Eric Cartmans screaming in the children’s area. When they were four and terrified of the dark, everyone understood that this was the first time they really felt fear and coddled them for it. Yet, for some reason, now that they’re 11 and feeling every adult emotion for the first time, no one cares. To them, there’s seemingly no catalyst. They went from cute and clever and generally adored to gawky and mouthy and generally despised and I am telling you, they feel every bit of this dislike and they understand exactly none of it… and it’s the lucky ones who have only this struggle.

The problem runs deeper in the South, as many problems do. In a region where it’s assumed you’ll marry and have children by 22, most adults don’t really get a time to be young and selfish. Your twenties are the time when your primary focus should be yourself, figuring out what you want from life and how to make it happen. Your twenties are the best time to find a career path, decide what kind of friends you want, what kind of person you want to be with, if you want marriage, and if you want children. People don’t often live deliberately, around these parts, though. They follow the path laid out for them, by parents who never considered another path for themselves.

While this works out for many and happens to be exactly what they want, many others find themselves in their mid-thirties, trying to recapture this time in their lives, backtracking while they feel they still can. They look at their spouse and children, a decision they made at 22, that was really no decision at all, simply a default, and wonder what might have been. They finally admit that they’ve been unhappy for the last 10 years, but they’ve stayed for the children, so they wouldn’t miss those precious, adorable, early years and they just can’t anymore. The kids are older now and don’t need them as much, they rationalize, because feisty has turned into bitchy, and they aren’t as devastated by the idea of missing this phase. It’s time to think of themselves again… except it isn’t. Their teens’ brains are still just as different from adult brains as they were when they were five years old. They’re not done, even if they aren’t as fun to be around and they still need their parents. That’s when they come to me… when everyone else, often including mom and dad, hates them… and I’m left cheering for the underdog, while people stare in confusion.

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Last week, a man who lives catty corner to the library, started yelling at my teens for existing near his back yard. They weren’t even on his property and he started yelling obscene and racist things at them, so they would leave. Because teens are impulsive and reckless, one of them started throwing rocks and the man called the police. Naturally, they believed the 30-year-old’s story and arrested the 18-year-old rock thrower, as they should have done, because you don’t get to throw rocks at people. I spent 30 minutes on the back patio talking to one of the other kids, 16 years old, angry, and confused. I convinced him not to pick a fight with the guy, to avoid his lawn, and stay out of trouble. The man came to the library later that night and yelled at my manager for allowing “white trash thugs” to exist… “thugs”, I might add, who were do nothing inappropriate until he started screaming at them.

It was just the next day that the same kid I talked down came into the library in tears, because this 30-year-old man got a group of friends together and jumped him. For all his threats and bluster, from the previous day, he was just a hurt child, wanting an adult to care about him and I’ll tell you, I did. In the middle of a program, I invited him and his friends to sit down and eat pizza. I assured them that they would always be safe inside the library, that we wouldn’t let anyone hurt them and I apologized on behalf of all of the adults who look at his hoodie and baggy jeans and write him off, for the collective teenage hate that leads to this sort of violence.

I admit that teens can be mouthy and impulsive and disrespectful. They’re often confused and angry, because being a teenager sucks. They don’t know how to cope with the Mean Girls, the adults who make no secret of the fact they don’t like them, their parents who are suddenly too self-absorbed to care what’s happening in their lives, all their new and strange feelings that they’re told to simply not have, and they lash out. Sometimes it’s downright unpleasant for even me to be around them, but the only way to get them through that phase, is to provide them with loving mentors who care about them, like they had for the first half of their lives.

I get that sometimes whatever takes a parent away from their teenagers is unavoidable, be it divorce or remarriage or a new job, but when a twelve-year-old girl sits across from me and tells me her dad is moving to Puerto Rico for fun, I want to dick punch him for fun, because he is not done raising his daughter and he won’t be for six years! No matter how loudly I cheer for the underdog, I can only make so much difference and more than once I have gone home in tears, because of that fact. Even some of my coworkers villainize my teens, insisting they should know better, but why?!?! If you don’t take the time to teach a teenage girl how much physical affection is appropriate to show her boyfriend in public, she’s not going to know, especially not in the abstinence education capitol of the world! If you don’t teach a teenage boy how to control his emotions, he’s not going to know how to deal with the pain of his first breakup! If you don’t teach a 13-year-old what to share and not to share on social media, she’s far more likely to jeopardize her future! If no one is there for them, they’re not going to thrive, because they’re still kids.

Ultimately, if I have to put up with your screaming baby banshee throwing a tantrum in the children’s section, “because they’re just kids,” you can put up with the laughing teens in the young adult section, because “they’re just kids” and I will never stop cheering for the underdog.

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The Time I Tried to Go Back to Apple

Y’all, I’m gonna be straight with you. I have not been happy with Samsung, lately. Having switched from an iPhone 4 in 2012, I’ve loved every Samsung phone I’ve had, from the S3 to the S5 to the Note 5… until April, when I got my Galaxy S8 Plus, the IT PHONE for Android users. Despite the rave reviews I’ve read online, I hated this phone. While I’ve always liked the slightly larger phones Android offers, the S8 Plus wasn’t just big. It was proportionately awkward. I’d carry it into the stacks to have internet access while helping a customer and it felt like I was roaming the children’s area with a paddle… which is admittedly a dream of mine, some days.

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Combine the sheer screen size with the fragility of the absolutely pointless curved screen and I broke my new phone, within a month, on my honeymoon… when it fell three feet from a toilet paper dispenser. After years of throwing my Samsung phones down the stairs without a scratch, I assumed this was a fluke… until Jake broke his S8, despite the Otterbox. Add this to the beta test Bixby software and physical button and I was done. Samsung had finally pissed me off enough to convince me that I should go back to the only other smartphone I’d ever had: iPhone.

Y’all, I was convinced this was the simpler route. I just wanted a phone, without gimmicks. I researched phones that had physical keyboards, attachable projectors and boomboxes, edges that responded to being squeezed, and they were all huge, which was the thing I hated most about the S8 Plus. I desperately wished I’d never handed over my Note 5… but I still had to make a choice. Many of my friends and family have iPhones and other Apple devices and rave about how well they work together. They insisted that they no longer suffered the same restrictions (no Google Maps, third-party music apps, waterproofing, etc.) that I remembered. I was actually willing to forgo the ability to make all my apps look like Christmas ornaments, a bigger deal for me than most, because there must be something to it.

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Folks, if I thought the size of my Galaxy S8 Plus made me look like I was using Zach Morris’s phone, the capabilities of the iPhone 8 made me feel like I was using Zach Morris’s phone. I could overlook the fact that the glass body so closely resembled the iPhone 4, that the LCD screen wasn’t even as nice as the one on my $120 Kindle Fire, that the style itself hadn’t changed since the iPhone 6, and even that it took three times as long to charge.

My first real sign that I couldn’t be an iPhone user, however, came with the photo gallery, which automatically organized my photos into little default albums, like Selfies, People, and Places. The only way to view them by date was through the Camera Roll, which showed every single thing I’d ever done, from selfies to screenshots to videos. I would have to thumb through every catty Facebook screenshot I’d ever taken (and that’s a lot) to find my holiday photos, unless I wanted to go through the trouble of creating an album. While I could download the Google Photos app, it was slow and buggy. A Samsung phone would provide just as user friendly of an experience to search Google Photos as their own gallery, which is also divided into similar screenshot/downloads/camera albums, but I can delete them. I’m not a 22-year-old barista! I don’t want a folder full of fucking selfies! Fine. Fine. I’d ignore the photo gallery and work on something that I knew was a new capability for IOS: free ringtones via the Zedge App… but only if I sync my phone to iTunes. WHAT FUCKING YEAR IS IT, APPLE?!?!?!

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I wasn’t done, though. I was going to give this phone a fair shake. Maybe it was just the appearance. I mean, the iPhone 8 does look substantially more dated than the iPhone 7. There’s something about the glass and aluminum combination, especially with the home button, that looks especially 2012. The fingerprint scanner was honestly really cool and I’d never bothered to use the one on my S8 Plus, since it was enormous. Siri seemed nice and could definitely help me out of any future Gerald’s Game scenarios. I could learn to love this phone… but maybe I’d prefer one that looked a little sleeker… and maybe I’d consider the Plus, since I was so used to a larger screen. Hopefully the proportions just wouldn’t be as wonky. Of course there was no way my husband was right and Apple just fucking sucked and I’d made a terrible decision on a big ticket item again.

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So, the iPhone 8 arrived on a Friday and there I found myself on Sunday, driving to the AT&T store to consider another phone, while I still had the 14 day grace period to confess my buyer’s remorse, with that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had once again committed to an $850 phone I regretted. I’d typed the address of the store in Google Maps, thinking at least Apple has Google Maps now and suddenly, on the side of the road, I thought I saw a dog playing… except…

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The dog wasn’t playing y’all. The dog had been hit by a car and was clearly paralyzed from the waist down and was yelping in agony. I immediately burst into tears.

“Siri, give me the number for Metro Animal Welfare.”
“I found the number for Metro Animal Birth Control Clinic. Will that work?”
“What? No. Give me the number for Metro Animal Welfare.
“I found the number for Metro Animal Birth Control Clinic. Will that work?”
“What the fuck is ‘animal birth control’?!? Give me the number for Metro Animal Welfare!”
“I found the number for Metro Animal Birth Control Clinic. Will that work?”

Fuck Bing. Fuck Apple and Bing. That’s when I nearly ran a stop sign and was almost t-boned, because I was busy Googling (not from the home screen widget Android allows, I’ll note) something that I’d never have to actually Google on an Android phone. It would have been as simple as “Okay, Google. Call Metro Animal Welfare.”

I called Jake, crying hysterically, and told him about the dog. He promised he’d take care of it. I continued on my way to the AT&T store and walked into the store red-faced and teary-eyed and explained my dilemma to the sales clerk.

“I’m sorry. I saw a dog get hit by a car on the way over here. I’m not crying because of a phone.”

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Ultimately, despite talking to sales people and browsing the other phones, I couldn’t decide on a course I was sure I wouldn’t regret and left, just as frustrated as before, without replacing the iPhone. On the way home, though, I decided I had 12 more days to change my mind and this was my day off and I needed to just get it done. There was another AT&T store in a nearby city.

“Siri, give me directions to AT&T.”
– a screen pops up asking me if I want to download Apple Maps again, after I deleted it for sending me to the wrong place earlier –
“Siri, use Google Maps to give me directions to AT&T.”
– a screen pops up asking if I want to download Apple Maps –

… and that was was it.

“Hi, welcome to AT&T. How can I help you?”
“I just got the iPhone 8 and it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I need to pay the $45 restocking fee and get something else, because this is the worst decision of my life.”

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It all worked out in the end, when I bought the S8 Active and gave it to Jake for his broken S8. Because AT&T had a promotion going that said I could bring in any old phone for a $300 credit, we got three times the worth of Jake’s cracked S6 he’d been trying to sell since March, which covered the insurance claim to repair the S8. Jake got a heartier phone out of the deal and I got a smaller phone, the week Samsung released an update that allowed me to disable Bixby and finally found a wet application screen protector that clings to the edges and works with an Otterbox. I sold my S8 Plus to Amazon Trade-In and plan to use the credit to buy a new tablet, specifically not an iPad.

I’ve shared my story with my Apple Fanboy friends, much to their dismay.

“Why don’t you just scroll through the pictures?”
“But you can download ringtones from third party apps. You just have to sync your phone.”
“Why don’t you just type in the address in Google Maps before you leave?”

Why don’t I use 35mm film? Why don’t I roll out a paper map and write out my directions by hand? Why don’t I just type up my blog posts on a fucking typewriter? Because I’m used to the technology of this century! Yeah, I just wanted a phone that works, but my definition seems to drastically differ from that of Apple owners. When you’re used to verbally asking for directions, you realize how incredibly dangerous it is to type in a request for them while driving and/or how inconvenient it is to have to do so while in park. This technology not only exists, but it’s a staple of Android phones. We’re talking bare bones phone capabilities, but it’s not present on an iPhone. After some of their latest inconveniences, I won’t claim to be a Samsung loyalist, but I will claim to be an adroid loyalist after three days with IOS. Who knows, maybe there’s something to it I missed.

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I’ll risk it and enjoy my Christmas ornament icons, hassle-free Zedge ringtones, headphone jack, fast charging, voice activated Google maps, and the plethora of uncomplicated, yet necessary, capabilities of an Android phone.

As for the dog…

Me: “Did you take care of the dog?”
Jake: “Yes. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone, but I drove over there.”
Me: “So, he’s not in pain anymore?”
Jake: “No.”
Me: “Do I wanna know why?”
Jake: “Nope.”

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Approaching Last Day: My 30th Birthday …and 5th Blogiversary

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I’m pretty sure no one has used a Logan’s Run reference on their 30th birthday in the last 20 years, but it is truly one of my favorite movies. In fact, I made Jake watch it early on in our relationship, in exchange for Blazing Saddles, one of his favorites.

Jake: “Why is everyone in this movie naked?”
Me: “What? They’re not naked. They’re wearing drapery.”
Jake: “It’s see-through.”
Me: “It’s not… ooooh. How did I never notice that?”
Jake: “How many times did you say you’ve seen this movie?”

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Regardless of the fact that this is apparently just cleverly disguised porn… or not so cleverly, as it may be, for the last 10 years, I’ve planned my 30th birthday around a Logan’s Run theme. I was gonna buy brightly colored age-coordinated gauze, glue plastic jewels to hair ties, make a geodesic dome shaped cake, and hold a viewing of the movie, while my friends watched in confusion. Then reality hit.

I live in Cherokee, 45 minutes from all of my friends in Shetland.

I got married this year and have spent enough money on parties.

My new husband isn’t above “accidentally” walking into a crowded room wearing nothing but drapery.

I even had to nix the lantern release from Tangled, after Gail the Wet Blanket informed me that it was “illegal.”

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Alas, my Logan’s Run theme has turned into a t-shirt I ordered from Redbubble and an evening viewing with Jake, as I’ve compromised with a more “normal” celebration and relocated my birthday gathering to a downtown food truck site, in the hopes that people will you know… come.

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As I hear it, such is the way of growing older. Reality sets in and all those outlandish dreams you once had fall away… except in my apparent fairyland, where that’s been proven to be complete and utter hokum. That’s right, y’all. I turn 30 today, September 9th 2017, and I have accomplished very nearly everything I had hoped to accomplish… as I’ve detailed in my blog for exactly five years to the day, including annual birthday/blogiversary posts.

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giphy4It’s a big milestone, y’all and this is exactly how I dance.

Surprisingly enough, I never actually sat down and created an official list of things I hoped to accomplish by 30. I think I’ve just always known that if I wrote a goal down and never achieved it, regardless of why, I’d feel like a failure… even though, as I’ve chronicled in my beloved blog, my goals have changed in the last five years. I’ve changed… and that’s okay. I proudly consider myself a very self aware person and now that I’m here, I think it’s for the best that I didn’t make any grand declarations of what I’d achieve by the end of my twenties. That doesn’t mean I’m not really proud of some things, though. Such as…

I lost the weight. I went from “somewhere around 270,” too ashamed and miserable to know an exact number, to “somewhere around 160”, as someone who can hike up a mountain, bike 10 miles, and never receives a raised brow from her doctor.

I’m confident. I learned to apply makeup, fix my hair, and comfortably wear cute clothes, which are blessedly far more affordable than when I was morbidly obese. I owned my quirky hobbies, and fandoms, and even my general social awkardness. Even if I still occasionally miss the mark, I learned how to more accurately gauge when to tease friends and when to be kind and supportive.

I finished school. I went straight through, graduating high school in 2006, my bachelor’s in 2010, and my masters in 2013.

I got my finances under control. I paid off some debt and improved my credit score. I consolidated my student loans and entered an income-based repayment program. I enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and am eligible on 2024.

I’m a full time teen librarian. At times, I thought it would never happen, as I worked two jobs for two and half years after receiving my MLIS. Even after I got full time, I thought the ship had sailed on working with teens, but through a crazy course of events, I’m working as a teen librarian in a suburban library, while still earning the pay and benefits of a big city system.

I fell in love and got married. I unashamedly admit that being married by 30 was pivotal to my overall happiness. Bt 27 or so, I didn’t want to come home to an empty apartment and Netflix any longer. I wanted a loving husband and a family.

When I started this blog, on my 25th birthday, I probably would’ve listed owning a home and children as goals for my 30th and now, five years later, I realize that it’s all come in God’s perfect timing. Jake and I weren’t ready for each other until exactly the day we met. We weren’t ready for marriage until the day we exchanged our vows. We won’t be ready for a house until next fall, when we’ve saved the money. We’ll benefit greatly from two years alone together, learning to communicate and not strangle each other, when I passive aggressively hide the clothes he throws on the floor, before we start talking about kids. 

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People keep asking me how I’m coping with turning 30 and my response is… coping? Why would I be coping? I live in a fucking fantasy world, where life only gets better as time passes. Despite the combined efforts of the entire South, I’ve spread out the good things in life and have yet to experience the best days of my career and buying my first home and having babies and watching my children grow and settling into a comfortable and steady marriage with the love of my life. In all honesty, if I did have Logan 5’s opportunity to seek renewal on Carousel tonight, I’d only go if I could be me all over again… because I have a shit ton of good coming my way, including a lot of brightly colored cookie cake.

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