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

 

 

 

 

 

Love Letter from God

First Love letter from God

It’s difficult to know how to start this. You’d think it would be easy, after all, I know you. I know more about you than you do. I even know your blood type, your genetic sequences, the exact minute your first tooth came in.

And I know that at night you wake up sometimes feeling alone, even though I’m there with you.

I’m always with you.

I could send you a text. I could put myself in your phone as a contact so that ‘God’ would flash across the screen every time I reach out to you. I could message you, tweet you, swirl words into the clouds or commandeer the lyrics of your favorite song. But I guess I’m old fashioned, so I’ll just write you a letter. A love letter.

I’m going to keep this one short, sort of an introduction. You might not think I need one, after all, the world is filled with ideas about me. But this is about you, for you. So let me just say that in this letter and those to come, I don’t want you to think of me as the creator of the universe, but more as the creator of you.

I don’t want you to think of me as the force that makes the wind blow or the sky rain. I want you to think of me as the air you breathe and as the one who always sees your tears, even the ones that stay hidden in your heart.

I look forward to talking with you. It’s hard to connect through all the sounds in the universe – all the voices and noises and concerns that occupy your mind. Maybe when you read my letters, you’ll be able to escape from those for just a little while.

Anyway, I look forward to my time with you.

Until the next letter, know that I love you.

 

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 Power of Words

Last week I went to a creative writing open mic night. It was held at a local community college, in a small auditorium with brick walls, a wooden stage, and a bright spotlight to shine down upon all those brave enough to walk up the stairs and stand behind the microphone.

The tension in the intimate setting was literally palpable. I even heard one girl say to another, “Don’t fall off the stage this time.”

Most of the readings were poems, and most dealt with things like homesickness, the daily grind of college life, and about falling in and out of love, and while the poetry may have covered various topics, in reality, each performance was about the same thing – about the power of words to make us stronger.

As I listened to writer after writer speaking in rhythm about love and loss and hopes and dreams, I realized that they were all really saying the same thing, displaying the same thing — the ability to be brave enough to expose themselves to others.

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the petite girl with short blond hair to get up on the stage after having fallen off it during the last open mic night. I can’t image how difficult it was for the girl who had proclaimed her undying love for a young man with brown eyes, and another girl for an older man, both then telling of how these men (one young and one old) had chosen to love someone else. Corazn Roto

Sure, it’s tough to get up in front of people and say anything — anyone who’s taken public speaking knows that. But for any human being to get up and undress their emotions in front of others, to stand naked in the spotlight, takes incredible courage, and words are what gave them the courage. Their words.

Whether we’re writing prose or poetry, we can never underestimate the power that words have, not only for the reader, but for the writer as well. No armor or bullet proof vest, no weapons of any kind, can give a person the courage or the character that words can.

Who needs X-ray vision or the ability to leap over buildings? Finding the right words to say what we need to say, is the only power we need.

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Dear Teens, Here’s a Girl Who Took on a Shark!

Dear Teens,

I’m sad to say that I heard it again today — that annoying phrase that starts with “Today’s generation” and ends with something about how nothing matters to them but their “cell phones”. Urgh!!!!!!  But don’t despair. People often believe ridiculous things — and there are plenty of ways to show these misguided people that they’re wrong. Teens do care about more than their cell phones — a lot more.

Introducing Rachel Parent. The first time I saw Rachel, she was going up against Kevin O’Leary. For those of you who don’t know who Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary is, you can see him on the television show Shark Tank, where he regularly goes for the jugular when it comes to making money off of other people’s ideas.

Rachel challenged O’Leary to a debate over the labeling of genetically modified foods after O’Leary said that people who don’t approve of GMOs should stop eating. You see, Rachel is passionate in her belief that people should know what they’re eating. Her passion grew after she did a school project when she was twelve. The research she conducted led to many concerns and Rachel became an activist and eventually helped Canada adopt a law that all GMO food should be labeled.

Hmmmm…So teens only care about their cell phones? I don’t think so. Want to see a twelve year old go up against a shark? Go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvDOYYaZyj4

Stay tuned for more awesome teens!

And remember — YOU MATTER!

Dear Teens, Please Survive

This past week was a frenzy of graduations — high school, college, even pre-school. During this same week, I officially withdrew my youngest daughter from public school for reasons most people who have walked the halls of middle school are familiar with.

In today’s society, the only people who ever seem to say that it’s okay to be different, are people standing in front of podiums receiving Oscars.

They’ve made it. They’re safe. They’ve not only survived being ‘different’, they’re able to lift their heads up and say, “Hey, this is why I’m here. My life is amazing because I survived being the kid who got belittle and insulted and stared at. I’m here because I’m unique. My mind doesn’t work like everyone else’s. I have an amazing imagination. I see the world for all its possibilities. I hear music in the wind and the rain. I hear characters whispering their stories to me. I care more about social injustice than I do about who will win the football game, probably because my life has been full of social injustice.”

We are a society filled with sheep. We’re told to think the same thoughts, to wear the same clothes and hair styles, to listen to the same music and believe the same beliefs. But that’s what society says and we, as individuals, are bigger than any society. We are individuals, each with unique minds, unique passions.

I was one of those kids who ate lunch alone in the auditorium. Not because I was anti-social, but because there was no clique– no table designated for dreamers.

My daughter has always been unique. She’s had characters and stories bouncing in her head since thoughts could first form there. She’s never really cared to conform but the pressure to do so has been crippling over the past year. The stares when she dyed her hair black, the boy who asked her if she was a satan worshipper because she wears My Chemical Romance T-shirts.

Graduation speeches are filled with fortune cookie advice. But here’s mine.

Survive. Don’t let society define you. Don’t be yet another sheep. There world has enough of those.

I won’t lie and say that it will be easy. The stares won’t stop. The whispering that happens both outside your head and inside won’t go away. But fight. Fight for the right to exist in a world made up of the vibrant colors of your imagination. Fight for a world with music that pounds in your chest and makes you feel something. Fight to stay different and alive so that one day you can touch the world with the magic that’s within you, because that’s why you’re different.

You have something others don’t have. I don’t know what your particular type of magic is — maybe it’s stories, maybe it’s music or photography or painting or creating new comic book heroes who fix social injustice or maybe it’s you fixing it. Whatever it is, it’s precious. It needs protecting. It needs to be safe.

So survive. Graduate not just with a diploma but with the freedom to be who you are and to leave your mark on the world. We need you so please, just survive.