A Room with One Door: What Hannah Baker Needed

 

Like so many other individuals, I’ve been watching the Netflix version of the bestselling YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. Everywhere I go, people seem to be discussing it, and on Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of teens starting posts with, “Let’s play Thirteen reasons Why”.

For those of you who haven’t seen this, it’s basically asking their Facebook friends to comment their name. The person whose post they are commenting on, will then comment “no tape” or “tape and here is the reason why”.

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As a psychologist, a parent and a YA author, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this. Then yesterday, I saw a post listing “Twenty Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child“. Things like, “fight their battles for them”.

This got me thinking about numbers. “Thirteen” Reasons Why.  “Twenty” Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child.  I thought of the “One” door I think so many kids today think they have access to, and that door is suicide.

Adults have to face the fact that schools today aren’t like the schools of ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Times change. We have the internet now. We have Facebook Live and Snapchat. We have a society where girls are publicly and privately sexualized, where girls are legally told that their work is worth less pay than that of males, where minorities and gays are legally persecuted and where schools hang anti-bullying posters in the hallway but then, so often, tell kids to toughen up and be less sensitive when someone bullies them.

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Years ago, I watched a documentary where a beautiful nine year old boy killed himself because he didn’t know how to do his math problems and he feared his teacher was going to humiliate him in front of the class for doing the problems wrong. He took a belt and hung himself.

I’ve seen a lot of comments about the fictional “Hannah Baker” and how she should have been tougher, should have stood up for herself more, should have tried more to stop the various individuals who were bullying her.

But here’s the thing. So many times kids, and adults, find themselves in situations that they can’t stand to deal with any longer. They may tell their parents, tell school officials, but so often nothing is done, nothing changes, and they find themselves in a room with one door.

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They hate the room. They hate how they feel in it. They hate how they are treated in it. They try and try and try to survive in that room, but eventually they just can’t anymore and so they open the door and walk through it.

The thing is, suicide shouldn’t be their only option.

Adults all know that middle school and high school are temporary. Once you’re out of them, they seem so incredibly insignificant, and as time goes on, they become less and less significant. High school is kind of like a root canal. While you’re gong through it, it might seem unbearable, but once it’s done and over with, you rarely if ever think about it.

But like Einstein said, “Time is relative.”

Just remember being little and your parents telling you it’s still two weeks until Christmas. Two weeks felt like forever.

Adults can look back and see those four years of high school as just drops in the bucket of time, but when you’re there, when Facebook posts ping on your phone even when you’re trying to sleep and you know people are constantly judging you, high school can feel like a life sentence. And there’s no parol. There’s no early release for good behavior.

I don’t have the answer, but I know as a society, we need to create a second door and a third and a fourth. We need to LISTEN. We need to help kids fight their battles because they are kids. Yeah, we all want to teach self-reliance, but wars aren’t fought by individuals; they’re fought by armies, and in the stressful world we live in, sometimes kids need an army behind them.

Whether you like the Netflix show or not, the reality is that suicide amongst teens is up 600% from 1950.

Hannah wasn’t guilty of selfishness or lack of creative thinking. She was trapped in a room and only saw one door. It’s up to us as a society, as parents and friends and teachers to create more doors. Or better yet, let’s bust the walls down.

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Third Love Letter from God, for Teens

 

While these letters are for anyone who wants to read them, these words are inspired by the teenagers of the world.

Why?

Because I have a special regard for you, for your struggles.

You’re caught between childhood and what will become the long arduous, yet rewarding, years of adulthood. Let me put it this way.

Suppose life is a swimming pool. An infant would be able to do little more than lie at the base of the ladder leading to the high dive. A toddler might be able to begin the climb but certainly not much else. A child may make it to the top, but would stand frozen on the edge of the board, too paralyzed to venture far from the ladder. The adults, both young, middle-aged and old, would already be in the pool, swimming with various strokes, various strengths, various amounts of interest.

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A teenager on the other hand, stands on the edge of the high dive, ready, able, and often willing to leap into life, into the unknown. A teenager is the embodiment of all possibilities.

The amazing thing, the inspiring thing about you, is that you all leap. Some bound from the board with graceful ease, curving in the air and piercing the water with barely a ripple to disrupt the lives of those below. Some run first, jumping as far from the board as they can, deliberately forming awkward angles with their arms and legs and not caring who sees them or what’s thought of them.

These are my favorite. Perhaps it’s wrong to have favorites, but I do so love to see the carefree passion I’d intended for all to have. It is no wonder that these not only risk the pain of the belly flop, but seem better suited to deal with the inevitable pains of life. Passion and enthusiasm are great painkillers, great shields against the negativity you will no doubt have to face in life.

There are those whose goal is to enter the pool of life with a splash and those who are too scared to enter at all. These inch their way forward, holding their breath against the slight swaying of the board beneath their weight. Life, the uncertainties of it, terrifies them. While the carefree jumpers are my favorite, these frightened divers are the ones who draw me from myself, who pull that which is known as love, out of my center, as I catch them in their fear and lower them gently into the water. You see, they still jump.

They can’t help themselves, life, adulthood is waiting and to retreat back into childhood is not an option. They have to jump, either on their own, or after steady, unrelenting time pushes them. They have to jump.

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The ones that hurt me the most, who bear on me with crushing heaviness, are the ones who jump, not into the pool, but out over the hard cement. I feel every broken bone, every collapsed lung, every struggling heart.

I mourn every lost chance. I mourn every smile that was meant to be, every tear, every laugh, every kiss or embrace or moment of wonder. I cannot tell you, I cannot create the words to explain the utter devastation that comes when one of my creations leaves their life un-lived.

This may seem hard, maybe impossible to believe, but it makes me feel…inadequate. How can I, creator of all, feel incomplete, not enough, hollow? I created emptiness because without emptiness, there can be no room to hold, and there is no greater purpose in life than to hold.

With each life, there are steps that are mapped out, plans that if left to proceed undisturbed, are quite miraculous, even in what you might think of as the most ordinary of lives.

Live. Please, live.

Imagine for simplicity’s sake, that you have been reading the most wonderful novel, a book that you are certain is destined to become one of your favorites. Halfway through, you turn the page to find that the words have stopped, the pages are blank. You are certain the protagonist was headed towards greatness, towards noble adventuring consisting of no less than love and passion, excitement, forgiveness, joy and fear. But it ends. Unfinished.

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Imagine now that you are the protagonist and that you have chosen to step away, eternally away, from the page. You will experience none of the joys waiting for you, because the current page of your life is just too heavy to turn. But what if you could turn it? What might be waiting for you if you allow yourself to feel hope? To believe in it? To believe in me, to give me a chance to hold you in your pain, in your loneliness? To give you the strength to turn the page and go on with your life?

I know I may seem far away, but know that I’m not. I am in these words. I am in the melody of music that swells in your chest and brings tears to your eyes. I am in the smile of a stranger and the hugs and kisses of those who love you. I am in the blue above you and the ground beneath you and all things in-between.pexels-photo-54379

I love you.

You matter. Never forget that. Never.

Love Always,

God

 

Second Love Letter from God.

Second love letter from God.

There are so many things I want to tell you. So many things to discuss, because I know your hearts and your minds are full, are heavy.

But today, let us start with something simple.

Yes, I created the universe and all things in it, and that being said, I must seem so complex, so powerful. But I don’t want you to think of me that way. If you go outside and stare at a flower or a snowflake, they are very intricate objects. But your eyes aren’t meant to focus on each individual element. They’re meant to see the ‘whole’. Only by seeing the ‘whole’ can you see the worth, the beauty of something.

I don’t want you to think of my complexities. At least, not yet.

Today, at this moment, I want you to think of me as a shield, a blanket. I want you to think of me as the song you listen to when the words of the world are too ugly, to cruel to hear.

Today, with so much weighing down upon you, see me as your comfort. Yes, I created the universe. I created the stars, the galaxies, the elements of all things. And I created you. But today, I want you to know that I created a world that was meant to be better than this.

My spirit is heavy too and there is no song that I listen to to drown out the pain of your world. There are no earbuds big enough to keep out the cries and pleas and screams and I would not wear them if I could for what sort of parent blocks out the cries of their children?

I hear you.

And while there is so much to discuss, today, let me offer you the softness, the warmth of my love.

I’m here.

For today, let that be enough.

I love you always,

God

 

 

 

 

 

“This Generation”

Hi Everyone,

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been busy working on rewrites of a novel that will be going out to publishers soon and it’s this novel and some other things that have inspired this post today.

To start off, last week I saw a post on Facebook about ‘this generation’.

 

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Needless to say, when the term ‘this generation’ is used, it’s probably not going to be a post about how studious, respectful and wonderful today’s youth is. I’m not a teenager anymore, but as someone who once was, and as someone who writes for teens and tweens, this really annoys me!

First off, generations are made out of people and people are individuals. Everyone has their own story, their own triumphs and tragedies. Not everyone born in the sixties or the seventies or the eighties or nineties are the same. Yes, we are all parts of the eras we grew up in, but we didn’t grow up in the same houses or neighborhoods, with the same incomes or religions or talents or handicaps. We’re all different and grouping a whole generation of teens together is just plain wrong.

Secondly, I happen to like this generation of teens. As a teacher, they make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. I see them struggling in a world that isn’t like the one I grew up in. When I was a kid, bullies weren’t that common and if you had one to deal with, you knew once school was over for the day, you were free of him or her. Today kids are never free — not with cyber bullying.

When I was a kid we had fire and tornado drills. We would never have imagined someone coming into school with the intent of killing as many of us as possible just because they have a desire to kill.

The point I’m trying to make is that teens don’t have it easy and most of them, if they feel entitled, it’s only because they want what’s fair, like a decent education and healthy food to eat. Most are grateful for the good things in their lives and most are much more attuned to what’s happening in our world than we ever give them credit for.

So to all the teens out there, when I first wrote this novel, it contained letters to you. Now, these letters are written by me, but I wrote them trying to imagine what God would want to say to the youth of the world if He or She decided to drop a line every once in a while. (I prefer to believe that God doesn’t have a gender one way or the other because…well…God created the universe and somehow genitals just shouldn’t matter to a being capable of such a feat.)

In the various rewrites of the book, the letters were taken out, but I’d like to give them to you all the same. So starting this week I’ll be posting the letters — the love letters from God.

Now, it may seem presumptuous of me to think that I can speak for God, and I’m not trying to. I’m simply imagining what the Almighty might want to say, or is already saying, but in our crazy, hectic, and sometimes angry, societies, we’re not hearing.

God gets a pretty bad wrap today and to be honest, I’ve struggled with sorting through the bigotry and downright evil that is paraded around our country in the name of religion. These letters aren’t about religion. They’re about spirituality. They’re about you and the fact that you mean something. You are something.

Anyway, I’m not sure what I’m hoping the letters bring you. Peace maybe. Guidance…well, we’ll see. Mostly, I want them to help each one of you know that while you are part of a generation, you are a part of something much bigger than that. You are a part of a gallery of art that is beautiful, rare and utterly magnificent. You matter.

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The Fault in our Hearts-Why I write for teens

Let’s face it, being a teenager isn’t easy. Sometimes, it flat out sucks. Especially in today’s society where some teens are expected to get passing grades, participate in extracurricular actives, help out around the house and work a part to full time job to help pay their car insurance and sometimes, the groceries. And in the background are the voices of people talking about how lazy kids today are and how they don’t know anything.

Is it any wonder that some kids and young adults yearn for something, hopefully not a terminal disease, but something to make them feel like their lives matter, that they matter. The character’s in the best selling novel, “A Fault in Our Stars” are given a wonderful gift. Not the gift of cancer, but the gift of being appreciated and valued. The gift of having parents and friends who don’t take them for granted. The gift of mattering.

I remember a young girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen, telling me that she wished she’d get into a car accident. “Not a really serious accident,” she said. “Just one where I’d get hurt enough that people would come to the hospital to see me and maybe they’d think about how terrible it would be if they lost me.”

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store and found a little girl wandering lost. She told me her name and said she was five. I walked through the store looking for her mom and when we found her some fifteen minutes later, she ran to the woman, grabbed her hand and smiled up at her. Her mom pulled her hand away and didn’t acknowledge her child in any way. Typically, I’m a non-violent person, but I wanted to shake this mother and say, “Hey, look at your kid! Be glad she’s not going to end up on the proverbial milk carton!” But the sad truth is, I don’t think her mother would have cared one way or the other.

If you feel like you don’t matter, if you feel like you don’t exist because the world goes on around you and no one ever seems to stop and just…see you…see yourself. Appreciate yourself. And I know that sucks because we’re meant to be loved. We’re meant to matter to others but sometimes people, for whatever reasons, have blind hearts. They don’t see what’s right in front of them. They don’t see what should matter most.

Since the 1950’s, teen suicide has gone up 600%. This may seem like a random fact to throw in here, but it’s not. Life is tough and sometimes we’re so desperate to get people to notice us, to value us, that we leave. We throw away our own lives and futures because the pain of being invisible, of not mattering, is just too much.

As if life hasn’t been tough enough, now bullies can post on Facebook and Youtube. They can share their cruelty and your perceived flaws, to the world. Parents are busy, some working two jobs and still not making ends meet. We’re all sleep deprived and many of us are barely holding our heads above water. But in the midst of all that shitty chaos, there’s one thing to remember above all others.

You matter. You shouldn’t have to be riddled with cancer and having daily chats with the Grim Reaper to know that. The reality is that our time could be up at any minute. We could choke on a hot dog, get hit by a drunk driver at a cross walk, and yes, our cells could start working against us and turn into that diabolical villain that’s fought with chemo and radiation and…appreciation.

I write for teens because they matter. Because every one should matter. I can’t SEE everyone. I can’t acknowledge everyone’s existence and the importance of that existence, but I can put words together that reach out from the page and can tap my readers on the shoulder and can tell them what I wish they already knew. I can tell them that no matter what is going on in their lives, they deserve to exist. They deserve to be loved. And if those around them don’t see that, it’s not their fault, but the fault in our hearts.