Amanda L. Webster is the author of If You Didn't See It Coming, One Bad Cat, Demons of the Night, DIY High, Valley of the Bees, and F-ing Freddy Fisher. She is also a writing teacher who lives part-time in a sorority house.
TicTok. YouTube. Snapchat. Day in and day out, our children are rotting their brains staring at these stupid-making apps. What is the world coming to? Is it as bad as their grandparents might think? I would argue no.
The other day I was hanging out with my 16-year-old in his bedroom because – well, he’s 16: if I want to spend time with him, I go to him. I don’t wait for him to feel like coming to hang out with me. I would never see him. My son likes to play video games on his tv while simultaneously watching YouTube videos. On this day, I asked him what he was watching. He said, “Oh, it’s just some video about Satan.”
My sister survived domestic violence too, as have several of my aunts and cousins, whether they care to admit it or not. I have a vivid memory of visiting an aunt when I was child, of one of my cousins showing me a hole in the wall and telling me, “My dad did that.” I am currently watching a niece grapple with a coercive control situation that will likely become violent, if it hasn’t already. If we don’t find a way to help her escape, she might end up like our cousin who didn’t survive domestic violence. In 2019, that cousin’s ex-husband murdered her in cold blood, shooting her in the back and head multiple times while their five-year-old played in the next room.
Yes, I am quite familiar with domestic violence. But I don’t let my experiences with domestic violence define me. Instead, I have worked hard to define it. I’ve talked to lots of survivors, read books on the subject, and even took a criminal justice studies course on intimate partner violence to try to understand how this could have happened to me. I watched The Perfect Victim and consumed Maid (both the book and the Netflix series), and read countless memoirs written by my fellow survivors. I want to understand and expose family violence in the hopes that I can help someone else save themselves the same way I saved me.
I’ve often considered writing a memoir about my experiences and might still do so. The problem is, like many PTSD suffers, I struggle to pin down the memories of what happened through those ten years of trauma. Sometimes it feels like my body remembers more than my brain does. The memories often come in disjointed flashes when I care to think about them the least.
With high school graduations coming up, I have a message that I’d like to put out here for any high schooler who desperately wants to go to college but believes they can’t afford it:
Just get there.
I know you’re looking at those student financial aid packages and the amount of money you still have to come up with on your own, and you’re thinking it just isn’t possible. But I’m telling you it is.
Just get there.
Take whatever free money you can get. “Free” meaning you never have to pay it back. Take only what you need in student loans to actually pay for your tuition and dorm room (if you need one,) and then start looking for a job on or near campus. Ask the financial aid office to set up a payment plan. Work your ass off this summer and save up as much money as possible to help pay for that first year of school. Don’t worry about the second year yet. Just figure out how to pay for that first semester.
I know my struggle as a white person pales in comparison with the struggles of People of Color in the United States and other parts of the world. But I am struggling. Because I know I’ve been brought up in a racial world, and I want to be a good person who treats all human beings as if they are equal. Because I know – intellectually – that we are. However, it’s hard to know the “right way” to go about this when you’ve been steeped in racist messaging your entire life.
I want my writing to be inclusive, but I don’t know how to accomplish this. I’m trying to learn how. I’m reading lots of non-fiction books on the subject and fiction by people of color (see brief list of recommended reading at the bottom of this post). I’ve also watched in horror as other white writers have been ravaged on Twitter for doing it wrong. What if I mess up, despite my best efforts? What if that happens to me? Or worse, what if I unintentionally hurt people with my ignorance?
If you’re a writer – or spend much time with a writer – one thing you know about us is that we like to play a little game called, “What If.” It doesn’t matter what the topic is, we will find a different way to look at it and say, “Well, what if X happened?” It’s where our story ideas often come from, but it’s also a way that we poor, broke artists often get through life on a shoestring and a roll of duct tape. A writer is basically MacGyver minus the cool 1985 haircut.
I often find myself playing this game with politics and the multitude of social issues that plague our country. This morning, I had one of those curiosity moments where – seemingly out of the blue – a question reared its head in my head and demanded to be Googled. So, I went to Google and asked, “What’s the average annual income of a person on disability?”
Google’s answer didn’t shock me, but its accompanying information did. Did you know that the median adjusted family income for an American WORKER is $24,487? I was shocked while also somehow not surprised. I thought back to the days when I was supporting two small children on that amount of money and how hard it was. What a huge pain it was to constantly have to find time to make appointments with my local human services agency to apply for food stamps and child care assistance, along with the regular recertifications, blah, blah, blah, flashback after traumatic flashback.
I feel the need to preface this review with a discussion on genre. The assignment of a genre to a book is little more than a marketing strategy whose purpose is to place the book in the section of the bookstore where it will sell the most copies. There are those who live and die by their chosen book genres. Some book snobs wouldn’t deign to read young adult novels, thinking those books are for kids and kids alone. But the truth is, a book can be many different things to many different people. A fantasy novel can also be a literary novel, and a YA novel can also be for adults. This is one of those rare novels that – in my opinion – is for everyone.
I first discovered The Girl Who Drank the Moon on one of the many literary blogs I troll for book recommendations. I added it to my Goodreads Want-To-Read list without realizing it is a children’s book. I then placed an online hold on the book, still unaware that my local library houses this particular text in the juvenile books section.
To wear a mask, or not to wear a mask? That seems to be the battleground on which so many Americans appear to be ready to die during this COVID-19 crisis. Why are we battling each other? Are the heated arguments with the people we love really worth it? Is this pandemic making us all feel so helpless that we just need to feel like we’re doing something, even if all we can do is either try to enforce mask-wearing on others or try to preserve our right not to wear a mask?
Someone asked me the other day what books I read growing up, and for some reason I struggled to come up with an acceptable answer. All that came to mind while I was under that spotlight was the boxes of trashy romance novels I used to get from my maternal grandmother. My high school best friend and I used to devour those novels, often reading together and stopping occasionally for one of us to read aloud to the other a particularly cheesy passage while giggling uncontrollably. While those were good times, my romance novel stage barely scratches the surface of the richness of literature I was exposed to in my early reading years.
As a child growing up in a rural area with no access to a library, the books I read were limited to whatever I could get my hands on. I loved reading Richard Scary, the Sweet Pickle books, and Dr. Seuss at the doctor’s office. I don’t remember if we had any picture books at home before I started kindergarten and gained access to the Scholastic Book Club. If we did, they were few and far between. I think we had three of the Sweet Pickle books, but I’m not sure where they came from. At some point in my early years, my dad invested in a full set of encyclopedias, and that’s what I remember him reading to me in the beginning. Continue reading “What I read: This author’s early literary influences”→