Brief Endgame Reflections

Note: Endgame spoilers ahead! Do not read if you don’t want to know!

As a guy on the low side of 5’3’’ who regularly loses arm wrestling competitions, I didn’t expect to relate to Thor as much as I did in Avengers: Endgame. I’d always been more of a Loki fan. His struggle to belong as a half-frost giant resonated with how I’d felt as a young LGBT Mormon.

But while Thor’s storyline was mostly played for laughs in Endgame, I felt like I understood him in some ways. When I graduated from college, I left university with some unresolved struggles with anxiety and depression. I didn’t have a job lined up right away like some of my friends, I lived with my parents for a few months while job searching, and I struggled to deal with some of my inner demons. If someone were to ask me about my worthiness as a person, I don’t know whether I would have laughed or cried.

So on one hand, it was pretty hilarious that the God of Thunder spent five years after Infinity War playing Fortnite and eating pizza. But behind the humor, I actually thought it was an honest depiction of mental health struggles. Depression can transform people into shells of who they used to be and make them feel like they’ll never find joy in life again. It can make you too miserable to leave the house for days at a time. It can make you wracked with guilt until your self-esteem is absolutely annihilated.

There were a few solid weeks in August where I couldn’t bring myself to get off of the couch. Video games and reading helped me take my mind off things, but it didn’t stop the constant anxious thoughts from coming. I didn’t drink beer kegs like Thor, but I definitely emptied enough Diet Dr. Pepper cans to fill a room.

When I was a freshman in high school, the first Avengers film inspired me. It made me feel like even if you don’t feel like you belong in the world, you can find people who understand you and make the world a better place. For that reason, I actually teared up a little when Thor’s hammer Mjolnir returns to him and, astonished, he yells out, “I’m still worthy!”

Because I know what it’s like to think you’ve lost your inner goodness. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. And even though I laughed at plenty of the movie’s comedic scenes, I meant it with every part of myself when I cheered for Thor.

These days, I’m in a much better place. I have a job and co-workers that make me feel fulfilled. I’ve got a place (and a puppy) of my own. And while I have low days every once in a while, my life is full of joy.

For those who struggle with depression and feel like they’re unworthy of love or happiness in life, I want you to know that you’re a better person than you think and that you owe it to yourself to get help . Whether that’s telling someone, going to counseling, or taking steps to improve your mental health one day at a time, don’t hesitate to seek out treatment because you “don’t need or deserve” it. There’s nothing you can do that can take away your inherent worthiness of love and support.

Life Update: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Guided Meditations

Hey friends! Now that it’s March, I thought it would be a good time to do another personal post. Overall, things have been pretty alright! Work is busy but fulfilling, I’ve enjoyed co-authoring the LGBT mental health column at HealthyPlace, and my dog Yoda’s been smiling a lot more on her walks now that the weather’s a little brighter.

But at the same time, my anxiety’s been flaring up a bit and making life less enjoyable than usual. As a result, I’ve been devoting the past few weeks to doing a deep dive on both relieving anxiety and how to cultivate a happy, fulfilling life. Here are a few habits I’ve been trying to pick up from my research in an attempt to replace stress with contentedness:

  • Meditation. So far, this has somehow been one of the most successful calming techniques. Right now, I’m doing five to ten minute recordings but am trying to work my way up to thirty minutes.
  • Exercising more often–taking care of Yoda has helped because I need to take her on a walk every day. Otherwise, I’ve been trying to get into running and strength training lately.
  • Cutting out caffeine. In theory. I have noticed that when I drink less caffeine, I’m less jittery but have yet to go cold turkey for more than a day.
  • Volunteering and trying to focus more on others. Right now I’ve been writing messages for Letters Against Depression, which is a non-profit that sends letters of hope to people battling with mental illnesses. If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity you can do from home or could use a little support for whatever you’re going through, I’d totally recommend checking out their website.
  • Connecting more with others. Most of the books and articles I’ve read on happiness center around cultivating meaningful relationships. Since I’m pretty shy and just moved to a new city, this has been tough lately but I’ve been trying to get to know my co-workers a little more and hang around writing/book events

So far, things seem like they’re doing better. I’ve been feeling a little more at peace when I get home from work and have been getting more done now that my anxiety’s manageable again. And on the evenings where things feel stressful, there’s always melatonin.

Other than that, here’s a few other things going on:

  • Finally got around to watching Yuri On Ice and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Oh, man. If any of you guys ever want to talk about Yuri On Ice, I know I’m like… two years late to the party but guys it’s so wholesome
  • Signed up for my first writing organization–the League of Utah Writers! So far it seems really cool and a good way to meet other local writers
  • Found out that BYU’s doing a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and I am so pumped to see it on Friday! I’ve been waiting to see it performed live literally since I was fifteen and am like counting down the hours. Plus, apparently the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s doing Hamlet this year so overall 2019’s shaping up to be an amazing time
  • My essay “A Whole String of Failures,” which explores Vincent van Gogh’s struggle to find pain in beauty along with some personal experiences, is going to be published in issue two of name and none (a trans and non-binary literary magazine)! Van Gogh is one of my lifelong heroes, and I’m honored to have an essay about him published so close to his 166th birthday on the 30th.
  • Have been reading–some of my favorites this month have been The Little Book of Lykke, The Adventure Zone graphic novel, and Howl’s Moving Castle

What about you? How has your month been and, when things get stressful, what do you find helps? And have you read any good books lately?

YA Review: Dear Evan Hansen

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TitleDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, & Justin Paul

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: High school senior Evan Hansen feels like he’s drowning in a sea of loneliness and anxiety. But after his classmate Connor Murphy commits suicide and Evan is mistaken as his best friend, he straddles the line between truth and fiction in an attempt to belong.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This is going to come as a major spoiler to anyone who’s seen the musical, but there are two queer characters in the novelization. One is an openly gay cis man and his semi-love interest, a pansexual cis man. Part of the pansexual character’s emotional turmoil seems to come from the failed relationship, as well as drug abuse and depression.

What I loved: Well, when I finally got to read the Dear Evan Hansen novelization after months of pining for it, I didn’t think I’d get to write about it on my LGBTQ YA catalog but here we are. This is, again, a pretty significant spoiler if you already love the musical so you’ve been warned, but I found the decision to portray Connor Murphy as bisexual fascinating.

On the one hand, it’s pretty straightforward “bury your gays,” which isn’t great. But it did add more depth to his character than the musical gave, especially because several chapters in the novelization are told from his perspective. I genuinely enjoyed his voice and felt that it gave his death true weight without glorifying suicide or romanticizing mental illness.

But Evan Hansen’s voice, however, I did not like. This was really disappointing, as I relate a lot to Evan as someone with social anxiety. The first time I heard “Waving Through a Window,” I felt like someone out there understood what it was like to crave close relationships but feel incapable of making them. It seemed like the Evan of the musical and novel were two different people. One was complex and empathetic, and the other felt whiny and shallow.

Even though most of the story takes place in Evan’s head, I felt like he didn’t contain the same likability as his musical counterpart. They might say the same things, but the internal motivation the book gives for Evan’s actions felt a little too simplistic. It’s an enjoyable read, especially if you like the musical, but because Evan’s character isn’t well-developed in the novelization, the plot doesn’t stand well on its own. 

Quote: “Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a great day and here’s why: because today at least you’re you and, well, that’s enough.”

Recommended: If you’re a fan of the musical, I think you’ll find this adaptation at least fascinating, if not enjoyable. Or if you’re looking for subtle bi representation, you might like Dear Evan Hansen. But before reading, keep in mind that this book does contain heavy themes. If you’re sensitive to suicide, substance abuse, homophobia, or , check out a few more reviews before reading.

YA Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

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Title: They Both Die at the End

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: In a near-future world where people get a phone call the day they are going to die, Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio go on an adventure so they don’t have to spend their last day alone. But as they grow closer to each other in their final hours, their focus shifts from dying to, for a few brief hours, finally living.

What I loved: This book. I loved this book. But I also hated it because it struck my emotions hard and wrung them with every page. You know exactly what to expect from the first page: even as you get to know Mateo and Rufus, you know that they’re going to die by the end of the book. The question is when, which keeps the book so captivating. Mateo and Rufus are just as aware as the reader that their time is limited and, in the course of a day, their relationship becomes so intimate and authentic despite how short-lived it is. It’s an equally beautiful and painful musing on how we define life as well as its end.

Quote: “I always wanted to stumble into someone like you.”

Recommended: This book was devastating but in such a necessary way. I’d warn anyone who wants to check this out that it’s a difficult read. Ever since I started hormone replacement therapy last year, I’ve cried a lot less than I used to but this one had me tearing up. If you want an emotional reflection on how mortality can make us love and lose hard, it’s a good book for that. Or if you want to bawl your eyes out. It’s a great book for that, too.

On an unrelated note, Adam Silvera is quickly becoming one of my favorite current LGBTQ YA writers. After reading this book, I couldn’t get my hands on History Is All You Left Me fast enough… which was also a painful, meaningful read. So expect a review on that soon as well!

Next: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

YA Review: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

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Title: The Art of Starving 

Author: Sam J. Miller

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: After his sister runs away, bullied teenager Matt develops an eating disorder in the hopes that starvation will make him stronger and bring his sister back. As Matt bonds with and develops feelings for his sister’s friend (and possible former fling) Tariq, he discovers that some things—good and bad—cannot be controlled by force of will.

What I loved: Until now, I hadn’t read a YA novel about men and eating disorders. I’m glad the first one I read was this one. Books about eating disorders tend to follow a pattern: they’re usually firmly planted in the realism category and don’t contain much humor. Which is valid and respectable, but The Art of Starving borders that line between fantasy and reality and it has an authentic, somewhat bleak sense of humor. It still gives its tougher subjects much-needed respect but isn’t afraid to take a book about mental health into unexplored directions. And, y’know, the humor is a little refreshing.

Relationships play a heavy part in shaping this story, the strongest of which are Matt’s confusion and longing towards his sister and his tentative romance with caring, yet cautious Tariq. In addition to these, Matt also struggles to understand his mother, who bonds with others mainly through food in a way that triggers his eating disorder. And then, of course, there’s the relationship that Matt has with himself—beneath all the self-loathing is a potential that he himself sees but must learn to access in a healthy way. This book hits its strongest stride when Matt works through all of these tangled relationships to see himself and those he loves a little clearer.

Quote: “The strongest people aren’t the ones who are born strong. They’re the ones who know what it’s like to be weak and have a reason to get stronger. The ones who’ve been hurt. Who’ve had things they love taken from them. The ones with something to fight for.” 

Recommended: If you want a YA book about anorexia that breaks the norms, this is your book. Not only does it feature a male protagonist with an eating disorder (in itself pretty rare), but it also features some speculative fiction elements. The way Miller uses fantasy to write truths in a way that reality can’t always do justice is both sad and beautiful. Its ending is also hopeful enough that the novel can explore some tough, dark topics while still letting some light shine through.

Next: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

YA Review: Love Letters to the Dead

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Title: Love Letters to the Dead

Author: Ava Dellaira

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: When Laurel’s English teacher assigns her to write a letter to a dead person, Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her recently-deceased sister, Mary, loved him. As Laurel writes letters to famous people who died young (like Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and Janis Joplin), she navigates love and friendships over her freshman year, mourns and comes to terms with Mary’s untimely death, and faces the trauma that Mary didn’t protect her from when she was still around.

What I loved: This book is so moving and a beautiful meditation on grief. Laurel’s character is open, and the emotions she experiences are real. She feels pain deeply, both in her life and in the lives of her loved ones, but she also sees beauty. It’s easy to relate to her as a protagonist because of her vulnerability. Those who love to immerse themselves in the protagonist’s emotions will find it easy to do in this novel. It’s steeped in both joy and sadness without being overdone or gimmicky.

I also loved the book’s format, which is told primarily in the form of letters. Most of the letters Laurel writes are to her sister, whose recent death is a heavy burden for her family to bear. Why Laurel writes to each historical figure when reveals a lot about both her and her relationship with her sister. As the novel progresses and the letters reveal just how complicated Laurel’s relationship with May was, you can’t help but hurt with her. I think that’s the sign of a good book: when you don’t just feel bad for the character but you feel with her. That’s exactly the kind of book Love Letters to the Dead is.

Quote: “I wish you could tell me where you are now. I mean, I know you’re dead, but I think there must be something in a human being that can’t just disappear. It’s dark out. You’re out there. Somewhere, somewhere. I’d like to let you in.”

Recommended: Recommended for anyone who enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Stephen Chbosky mentored Dellaira as a budding writer and helped workshop Love Letters to the Dead. While the book stands well on its own, the influence is there. Perks and Love Letters to the Dead have a similarly honest, emotional feel.

Next: Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

YA Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

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Title: My Heart and Other Black Holes

Author: Jasmine Warga

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: High school students Aysel and Roman lose hope in life following separate family tragedies and plan to end their lives together on April 7th. But as their friendship begins to heal Aysel’s broken heart, she must find a way to convince Roman that life is still worth living.

What I loved: This book deals with loss and guilt that, though often painful to read, really delves into how isolating grief can feel. Aysel hates her father for committing horrible crimes, but she also still cares about and misses him. And she fears herself for missing him because she worries she’ll become like him. Roman blames himself for an accident that ultimately wasn’t his fault, but he can’t bear to live with himself without all his family lost.

Yet, even though these emotions are almost too much to bear, Warga also shows that through opening yourself to another person (along with seeking help), it’s possible to heal. Life doesn’t automatically become bright again once the Roman and Aysel have each other, but the love they receive from each other gives them hope that maybe they’re not the monsters their inner demons say they are. They also start to believe that, even though life hurts so much, they can still find happiness.

Quote: “But maybe meeting Roman has helped me to understand myself better. Yes, I’m broken. And yes, he’s broken. But the more we talk about it, the more we share our sadness, the more I start to believe that there could be a chance to fix us, a chance that we could save each other.

“Everything used to seem so final, inevitable, predestined. But now I’m starting to believe that life may have more surprises in store than I ever realized. Maybe it’s all relative, not just light and time like Einstein theorized, but everything. Like life can seem awful and unfixable until the universe shifts a little and the observation point is altered, and then suddenly, everything seems more bearable.”

Recommended: Yes! In my opinion, this was an honest portrayal of depression but also a hopeful one. Aysel and Roman’s path to overcoming depression has ups and downs, but their friendship gives them strength in dark times. I think, though, that it could be triggering for people who currently struggle with suicidal thoughts. It can get pretty vivid.

Next: One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi