This post is a discussion of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and its reflection on humanity’s anxiety around the future and the unknown. In particular, I want to talk about Yancey’s focus on the effects of the alien invasion on the characters within the story, especially: Cassie Sulivan, Ben Parrish, and Evan Walker.
Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was mostly isolated by my mental illness, but even then, I had noticed the prominence of the Si-Sayed figure. What I didn’t ever expect is that this figure appears in Naguib Mahfouz’s 1956 classic called The Palace Walk.
Give This a Listen: Popular Music Around Mahfouz’s Time**
This is a violin cover of the classic Umm Kulthum song called “Enta Omri.” The song is way too long (at least nine minutes long. And, it doesn’t have awesome variety like a Queen song).
Way back in February, I went to the library and grabbed my first Sarah J. Maas book. It was her first published novel, Throne of Glass. My nervousness as a people pleaser was an all-time high. This was the case because Sarah J. Maas has been criticized a lot over the years on Book-Tube. Reading Sarah J. Maas’ books now is a form of self-care and expression to me. Let me discuss this further.
Damsels No More
Maas’ Throne of Glass: Caleana
Maas’ first series has a typical premise, akin to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. An assassin is ordered to be the king’s champion in a tournament. I acknowledge the criticism of Celaena as a character.
Let me tell you why Celaena matters to someone like me. She gets to be herself, unabashedly, despite the scoffing of many (male) characters. As the books get bigger, so does my love for Celaena. When people point out that she is not shown as a heartless killer, I wonder if they’ve considered Celaena’s complexity.
Because, yes, she could’ve been a ruthless killer, but the point is her inner turmoil and grief. Maas shows us a girl who had difficult circumstances, a traumatic past, a love taken away from her way too soon.
To me, Celaena is strong, not because of her assassin storyline. No, she’s strong because her heart experiences death, torture, and unfairness without ever losing her innocence. I have never seen a book character with a dog like Fleetfoot. Nor have I seen a character search for answers in stillness, in reflection, and in reaching inward.
Throne of Glass: Lysandra
I have not read Assassin’s Blade yet but Lysandra became a total favorite of mine. Her backstory was equal parts sad and unique. Her relationship with Celaena developed beautifully. Plus, she has made bold choices to break free from abusive relationships.
Besides, she and Evangeline have strong parallels in their upbringing, which strengthen their relationships.
I am here for all the girl gang love.
Throne of Glass: Elide
Oh, my favorite girl. I have never related to a character more than I have with Elide. Her timid nature, coupled with her secret, is one of the reasons I love this series so much.
I have yet to see what will happen to Elide. She is already rocking my world quite a bit.
The loveliest, sassiest, and the most incredible princess in my world. I miss her.
So…What Does That Mean For Me As a Critical Reader
I recognize the flaws in Maas’ writing. There are cringe-y sex scenes in later books. Sarah J. Maas has not included enough diversity and sometimes, there are messed up gender roles in her books. My approach is to be critical of these things, but I also admit that I enjoy her stories. Her characters mean a lot to me and I fly through her stories.
You can be critical of something and still enjoy it.
Okay, so I tried writing this post a few times. Lots of deleting took place. Needless to say, it sounds like it’s something I’m genuinely afraid of. Therefore, let’s talk about my journey with understanding intersectionality and the inclusion of minorities to narratives.
Introduction to Intersectionality
This is a sad thing, but I didn’t really find out about intersectionality until perhaps the final days as part of academia. Before then, I was feeling like the only person who somehow intersected between various communities. I was listening to a lot of John Green and Hank Green videos, and they mentioned Rosianna, who makes incredible videos that I love to this day. (I’m particularly fond of her Backburner series). Hannah Witton, Leena Norms, Marina Shut Up became some of the people who are constant in my life, even now, as influences.
I was pretty unaware of the term itself, though, until a year or two ago, when I watched this video by Akilah Obviously.
My Relationship with Intersectionality
I’ll admit it: I get scared of messing up somehow. For instance, I haven’t been able to write a single novel since I started listening to more critique of fiction. This is not me blaming anyone. It’s mostly because I have experienced frustration when it comes to being excluded from narratives.
For me, the usual dialogue centered on white straight and able-bodied people. I mean, I think back on Faulkner and how haunting it was to read about disabled people mis-represented (to put it lightly). How about that horrid Mice and Men? Let’s not talk about My Antonia and Othello. Even Wuthering Heights which was among my favorites once upon a time, had intensely problematic approaches to race.
My experience was of extreme exhaustion when it came to traditional (academic) discussions of fiction, because they were almost always exclusive to those who have extreme privilege. Everyone else was demonized and vilified.
Because of this, I am afraid of offending someone, of leaving someone out. I know that I’ll always work to be more inclusive and welcoming.
However, I do want to say that this is a process, and it is very subjective in certain cases. For me, I’m mostly aiming to use #ownvoices to help determine if a certain work was problematic.
Like I said, my journey as an intersectional feminist is one where self-discovery (as a disabled asexual aromantic person of color who is Muslim). But, really, it’s about finding my place in the conversation. Even more importantly, it is dependent also on remembering when to shut up and raise other voices instead.
What is your relationship with intersectionality and inclusivity (it’s a word if I say so, laptop!)? Are there certain resources you use to find #ownvoices reviews of fictional work and media? Please share it with me! I am always trying to be more supportive of other minorities.
This is the PITS. I have been having a rough time for at least three months. Today, I decided to share my experience with blogging as someone who has mental illness. As such, I am considering making a change in how I approach this. I guess I’m gesturing at this site. Some of this discussion may resonate with you, I hope. But, some of it won’t. I hope you just…listen.
When I joined the book blogging community a year ago, I noticed that there are certain types of posts that people shared. Lists. Lots of lists. My problem is not so much that the lists were “bad.” But, they did not work for me, because I am not reading as rapidly as some people in the community do. This results in me listing the same books, week after week. And, after a while, it just gets less fun.
Instead, it feels like a routine (not in a nice way). I don’t read as much as others, and I am pressuring myself even more to keep up.
Not only was it just a series of lists for books, but I also fell into a trap where I had created these “sections” of my blog to streamline navigation. Like, it’s a blog. Not a map. The fun of it, to me, is to see a life unfold, to enjoy fan-girl moments and analysis, and enthusiasm.
This was another issue I had with the blog. I pressured myself to post every day of the week, for weeks at a time. Nothing I’m saying is ground-breaking news. I’m sure people can live without my lists for a day or two per week.
Maybe even more.
I have to be careful not to turn this into something my OCD will flip against me (that sentence failed on so many levels).
I don’t like talking about how sick I am on here for fear of sounding “out of it.” But, as someone who has had depersonalization all her life, I have a hard time being “present.” For the past five years, I have been in therapy. Granted, it took me a long time to open up about this (and the manic episodes were pretty embarrassing too). It’s scary to be here mentally and I honestly don’t know how I always just…stop being myself and pray that if I dream of someone else, I could somehow become them.
Does this make any sense?
Anyway, blogging shouldn’t be all that I do. Neither does reading sound like something I want to throw my whole life into. I want to see what makes me feel at peace. In order to do that, I need to step away from following this dance of posting, commenting, and then depersonalize my way through the day, hoping to become a different person.
Maybe I can write about my findings, or try to capture my moments of clarity.
I don’t know. But I am definitely in need of learning new things to become a more comfortable person.
And the search continues
What is ahead is lots of soul searching and experimenting with what works for me as a blogger. My intention is not to insult anyone who is okay with the routine posts, or the reading all the time. It just isn’t working for me. We’ll see what I find worth discussing on here between the books I do manage to finish.
When I had initially read Paper Towns, I was in my early twenties. At the time, I was more moved by John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. But, as I near the middle aged years, I realize that perhaps Paper Towns is more relevant to me now.
I understand that many people dislike Margo, but the older I get, the stronger the connection gets between us. You see, I was more of a Q growing up. Driven, ambitious, and academically inclined, I barreled through life–furiously trying to prove my worth to an unforgiving crowd.
I tried to be good at my job. I pushed harder than ever to be present, to do my work, to not take breaks. Sometimes, I’d stay awake for days just to grade and reply to emails. The biggest surprise was my failure. Even when I check reviews of my teaching, years later, I see what very few people noticed: I was doing things for the wrong reasons. When my breakdown and subsequent hospitalization happened, I started to realize that I was in the wrong group. I was in the wrong field.
A couple of weekends ago, I had an obsessive episode, where I had to look up old classmates. Most of them were teaching in universities. A lot of them were friends on social media.
At first, I felt sorrow. But, then I realized that I had never made any connections with people. I was the weirdest teacher to ever grace a campus. First, it was because of my emotional nature. I cried about my failures all the time (there were many failures. No one talked about their struggles).
In retrospect, this reminds me of the idea of Paper Towns. This is the images we mark on maps for authenticity. Maybe adulthood and success were at different spots in maps. I am recognizing my own path. Like Margo, I get to redefine myself while others are locked in their paper towns and paper lives, paper relationships. And, I am careful not to say it in a judgmental way. Some people like being hamsters on a treadmill–an eyes on the prize mentality driving them.
“Isn’t there something that can make you happy now?”
Her Story to tell
And, I think this ties back to the Fault in Our Stars, and every John Green book I have ever loved (read: all of them). It’s about leaving a legacy. But it is not about making financial gains, or some sort of tangible effect on the world necessarily. I know so many ex-classmates who will do great things. On the other hand, I recognize that I have mental illness, and it sways my perception of the world quite a bit. My priorities are different. If I have carried myself with grace and kindness, if I was brave and creative, if I was sincere in my interactions and open about my insecurities, I am happy. I am happy if I am open with God and loving His creation. And, I know not everyone agrees with my faith. So, it’s part of my mission, too, to be inclusive and loving of people no matter how different we may be.
You know, I tried expressing my own freedom for social norms by doing all kinds of weird things. Now, I am trying to quiet down, and listen up close to what truly speaks to me deeply. That is what Margo would do.
It’s been a while since we have had a discussion. Have a seat. Let’s talk about the shame-based narrative that is prominent in discussions of mental illness.
Many people assume that if they “find out” about someone’s mental illness, they have the upper hand. I have encountered people shaming their significant others for coming from a family where mental illness is prominent.
I have also met people who shut down when I discuss my mental illnesses. Sharing how mental illness affects life, to me, is the most liberating form of expression, because mental illness drags you inwards. It makes it hard to communicate as fear of judgment collapses bridges.
It is this shaming that I want to discuss today. As people hear more about mental illness, the assumptions are that it’s a “snow flake” thing. Some people assume that is a weakness to be wired differently.
However, for the most part, the most damaging assumption I have noticed directed at people with mental illness is “get over it,” “you think you have it bad? Think of so and so,” or “you take pills, you have no excuse,” or straight up, “You have no excuse.”
Even worse, there is the assumption that mental illness means locking up the person in some psych ward for the rest of their lives. In saying things like this, the underlining message is that “normal lives” have no room for people with mental illness.
Doing this pushes people into seclusion, into staying mum about their mental illness, which simply allows the dialogue to be negative, and dishearteningly so.
Maybe it’s time we view mental illness as a packaged deal. It’s not wholly negative, nor is it positive entirely. The thing to consider is that there’s nothing unequivocally good or bad. There’re elements of good and bad within every experience.
I was reading an article about a psychiatrist who was hopsitalized for six years due to her mental illness, and that this experience helped her become a more effective psychotherapist. But, the way patients talk about this past, it’s all about shame. “I know your secret.”
It’s as if having a mental illness delegitmatizes her status as a psychotherapist. But, the doctor shares that the hospitalization helped her with psychoanalysis. It helped her connect with patients.
The more we sweep mental illness under the rug, the more desperate people become to hide it. Suicide, self harm, secrecy, avoidance: these are just some of the coping mechanisms people will resort to.
No one wants to be dismissed as a professional person, as a romantic significant other, or as a friend, family member, because they’re mentally ill. And, yes, we can rephrase the word “mental illness” and say things like “Mood disorder,” sure. But, that does not remove the stigma and people haven’t stopped shaming others for being different.
Mental illness is not a death sentence. I remember way back in 2012, when I was told that I was very, very sick, I thought it’d be the end of my life. I was ashamed that I couldn’t have hidden my illnesses for much longer. Moreover, I was ashamed because I needed medication, and even with medication, things were really tough. I was ashamed of being admitted into a psych ward.
And, you know what? I think mental illness, and seeking out help, gives you a different perspective on life. To me, it’s made me more self aware and reflective. It’s the motivation for constant revamping and reshaping old habits into newer and healthier approaches to life.
I posted this discussion regarding queer characters in some popular shows. My point is that there is a certain kind of vagueness in the inclusion of queer characters in shows. I obviously don’t mean to use queer as a derogatory term. As an aro ace person, I identify as queer. It is a term I feel comfortable using. Let’s begin the discussion.
Projecting, but Never Canon
This is a common implied message I have noticed in many statements made by content creators. For instance, take a look at Andrew Scott responding to questions regarding Moriarty’s sexuality.
His reply is double sided. On the one hand, it is okay for people to project whichever identifiers they may have onto the character. However, and this is kind of implied, it will never be canon.
My frustration with this sentiment is in its favoring of “traditional” sexuality (“heterosexual.”). For example, in Sherlock, Sherlock/Irene and John/Mary are presented as canon. The rest is simply hinted at. The question is, why not include queer characters if you are going to claim to be inclusive?
Condescending and Mocking
I have noticed a lot of mocking from actors when faced with questions regarding their characters’ sexuality. For example, take a look at the Supernatural cast discussing Dean/Castiel’s relationship. One actor says, “That is some weird sh**.” And, “You don’t want any part of that.” Here is another video where another actor talks about the supposed growth in slash fanvideo and fanfiction in which he calls it, “fuc*ed up but it is nice.”
It’s like shipping queer relationships is trouble or an inconvenience. I am not a fan of the show, but I can tell that it’s about angels and demons. If you are dealing with the supernatural, how on earth is it trouble to include queer characters? Is it really a stretch of the imagination for a main character to identify as queer?
It boils down to inherent phobic responses to queer relationships due to ignorance. For instance, the actors in the show Merlin tend to avoid the most common ship for the show, Merlin/Arthur.
In response to this ship, Katie McGrath calls it “genius,” and then drops a comment, “I am not sure Bradley and Colin feel the same way.” She continues to dismiss the romance. Again, it is like a homosexual relationship is an insult to the actors and characters.
Why It Matters
This ignorance and negative attitude towards playing queer characters makes it hard to find queer representation in the media. The vagueness in the inclusion of queer characters makes it harder to: 1) Identify as such in real life, 2) Create dialogue regarding prejudice in the LGBT+ community.
Before getting sick, I didn’t think much about disability. I assumed that all disabled people are easy to spot. I also thought they didn’t want attention; they have been disabled all their lives (this is very embarrassing. Keep reading).
Oh, the embarrassment of seeing a seizure for the first time and just standing there helpless and confused. Also: yes, the irony of me getting a seizure disorder later on, that hasn’t escaped me.
I got sick. At first, I was angry because I thought I was too smart to get sick in the head. Depression, anxiety, and psychotic episodes all within 5 years into my twenties.
Even then, years later, I started understanding the complexities of disability and its representations in media and literature. I realized that not every disabled person knows what they need. And, even if they do, there’s a tremendous pressure to act “normal.”
For whatever reason, the media reduces people to simple “visible” disabilities. “Oh, look, he needs a wheelchair. He’s got a ramp. Problem solved!” There is zero representation of people with disabilities as central characters. One enraging example is Quinn in Glee, who was paralyzed momentarily for texting and driving. It’s like disability is the worst thing that could happen to a person.
Another example is in Me Before You, where Will wants to kill himself for being disabled. I just want to see movies about disabled people living and functioning on their own terms.
Flaws in the Representation
There are so many flaws in how the media approaches us as a group of people. For instance, why are we presented as these wholesome characters? Or, by the same token, we are vilified? Disability doesn’t make you inherently evil or wholesome. There’re shades of grey here, not just black or white.
It’s not a cause for personal development. We have other things in our lives besides our disabilities. There are disabled athletes, parents, speakers, entrepreneurs.
This reminds me of another point: not everyone has an accident that makes them disabled. It’s not a punishment from God for sinning or something. Sometimes, your body does weird things. It’s sometime genetics or circumstance.
Also: can we not assume that disabled people are infants? This goes back to the wholesome image idea. There are lots of high-functioning disabled people who can handle taking care of their own for the most part. Some disabled people can’t do that, but this doesn’t disqualify them as adults or humans overall. People act a certain way because there’s a logical explanation. I truly believe that. Don’t dismiss it as “craziness.”
Overall, we need more complexity in how disability is represented. Disabled folks aren’t disabled bodies only. Moreover, being disabled doesn’t make someone any less interesting or worthy of success, respect, or representation.
Why Representation Matters
Look, it matters. When I got sick initially, I thought I was going to get sent to a psych ward forever because that’s all the media had taught me. I thought of the mad woman in Jane Eyre. I thought of Lenny in Of Mice and Men. I thought of how much I’d stand out and how everyone would be ashamed of me for the rest of my life. I thought of how I could be like David Foster Wallace, Virginia Woolf, Ned Vizzini, who couldn’t live a long happy life because of their mental illnesses.
In other words, I grew up thinking that I’d have to die, because I wasn’t “normal.” Normal people get regular jobs, move out, get married, have children.
I thought of how there’d be no story to tell about me, no legacy, because no one writes stories, good, exciting, and worthwhile stories about anyone with a disability. If/when they do, it’s all about their disability, and how they “conquer” it.
The truth is, you don’t need to defeat the disability. That’s like fighting your own skin and trying to get new skin instead. No, man, no. Don’t do that. And don’t expect anyone to change themselves, fake their life to fit into a box of able-ism.
Social media is rarely seen with a concentration on mental illness. It is fascinating to think of it under the mental health lens because of its prevalence. Those not on social media are often seen with judgment and concern. The norm is to be on the Internet. In other words, to be connected to strangers, family, friends and coworkers. The point of this post is not so much to chastise or condone the use of social media. After all, this is cross-posted all over social media. What I am suggesting is perhaps a change in how we use and regard it.
Comparisons and Competitions
What comes with an influx of information is comparisons and competitions. I have seen so many posts about self harm, and starvation, encouraging eating disorders and fostering mental illnesses, rather than suggesting help. There were so many times where I felt like I wasn’t “sick enough” to go to a doctor, and it wasn’t until family and friends sat me down and dispelled these ideas out of my head that I went to get professional assistance. It’s good that some websites are starting to suggest that there is help out there for those who need it, but this is only when certain keywords are used in a search bar. Unfortunately, there are too many keywords that can be used to find the disturbing material worsening a person’s illness.
Availability of endless content can be helpful because it can lead to awareness but it can also be a distraction and deterrent of productivity. I know that when depression hits, it can be extra hard to stay focused on one task rather than aimlessly watching YouTube videos or reblogging images and quotes on Tumblr. It makes things much worse when you’re already feeling unproductive or unfocused.
Like for Like?
The way the Internet works is through constant approval: people want likes, shares, comments, and it is so hard to get accustomed to having no audience to your work. With that said, there is also the way people feel more honest when they’re not judged by their appearance. I have met like-minded people on the Internet because we shared interests or hobbies. But, there’s also the exposure to trolls on the Internet, who bully people mercilessly and brutally. Too many lives have been lost because people were incessantly mocked. It comes with the territory of being anonymous online.
Being compassionate, open minded, and accepting would help a lot on the Internet. Extending kindness to others is crucial as mental health is difficult as it is, and every bit of support helps tremendously.