I noticed yesterday that since the turn of the year, my posts have turned a bit melancholy or nostalgic. After looking back at the positives and negatives from 2015, I wrote a bit about what I would tell younger me, the best advice I ever learned back then, etc. I thought of changing the trend but then went “nah, let’s just keep it up.”
So today, I’m going to talk a bit about books, and how much they’ve meant to me throughout different stages of my life.
You might be unsurprised to hear I was an awkward lonely kid in middle school. I wore huge glasses, had unkempt hair, and wore clothing that did not fit me well in any way. I was also at least two years younger than everyone else (I’ll talk more about that another time) so that made me feel isolated.
Luckily, my frail look, young age, and (in retrospect) my Hispanic heritage, lead to certain Hispanic guys at school being very protective of me, and kept me from really being bullied.
I didn’t have a bully, but I did have quite a bit of loneliness. I had a couple of friends, but they didn’t go to the same school, and I just felt no connection to the people in my classes. So I read.
I would finish my assignment for maths within 20 minutes, and then spend the rest of the period reading some book.
I’d sit and at the lunch table by myself, but I wouldn’t really be alone, because I was reading about the Baudelaires while I ate.
In the mornings, I’d rush to the library before homeroom started, so I could return some books and find new stuff to read. The school library really became a sort of second home.
Some of you, particularly those who never had books as your only friends, might think it was pathetic or pitiable. I disagree. While I wish younger me would have been able to make more friends, I don’t see growing up along the lovingly crafted words of hundreds of people, reading about a thousand men and women, and going on fantastic adventures every day as something to be looked down on.
When I was sixteen or so, I went through my first heartbreak. I laugh a bit it sometimes, it’s so maudlin in retrospect, but in the moment it was serious business. I’d been dealing with depression for a long, long time, and this was the stack of hay that snapped the camel’s back in two.
I stopped caring about food, mindlessly went through college each day, spent hours in bed alone, feeling numb or crying.
I can recall a particular low point when I was walking to the shop to buy bread or something equally mundane: I was walking across a bridge when I stopped someone who looked a tiny bit like the person who had cut themselves out of my life. I started crying in the middle of that bridge. I don’t mean I teared up a bit, I really fell apart and started bawling my eyes out. It was embarrassing. I had to rush back home and sit in my bed for half an hour before I’d calmed down enough to go outside again.
It was bad. What finally helped me get better was reading about Terry Pratchett on the Internet somewhere. I downloaded all of the Discworld books (I believe there were 47 books back then) and I spent the next couple of months reading them.
This was around December, so it was nice and sunny outside, and I would lean my head against a log in a park near my house, and spend 5, 7 hours each day reading about Rincewind and Granny Weatherwax, and Lord Vetinari.
If you haven’t read them, you should do so now. They are incredibly well-written, delightful and joyous books. The silliness, cleverness, and pure delight in language and imagination in the series sparked something in me. Book by book I started to shed some of my misery, and rediscover the beauty in the world. By the time I’d finished all the books, some 2 or 4 months after starting, I’d worked through my grief, and ended up a much more positive and happy person than I was before.
Reading healed me, and left me better than ever.
Growing up being transgender was a very painful experience to go through. It took all the awkward and difficult parts of being a teenager—being uncomfortable in your body, struggling with who you really are, discovering your sexuality, among others—and amplified them, made them a lot more of a struggle to deal with.
Can you imagine how confusing it is for a young boy to start thinking “actually, maybe I’m more of a girl…” and then watch in horror as every day that passes makes his appearance and body chemistry resemble that of a man, and less and less of a woman?
I’ll try to write a post about it someday, it’s a painful and complicated thing to write about, but for now just try to put yourself in my shoes. Imagine having to deal with something so massive to your sense of self and self-worth when you had the confused brain and emotional skills of a 14-year old (or at least the maturity I had when I was that age.) It’s hell.
There were a few things that got me through this period of my life. Some were healthy, like channelling my frustration, fear, and pain into my guitar and playing it to get through particularly bad days. Other methods were not quite as healthy, such as the months I would spend sitting in my bed alone, sailing through emotional storms in the rickety boat of depression.
One of the biggest tools I had to keep from hurting myself or taking drastic measures was reading. I would bike to the public library after school nearly every evening, and spend hours picking out books that looked interesting, starting one in the small park outside, then hanging the little red bag the library handed out for carrying the books onto my bike, and pedalling home to read while I did my homework, while I ate dinner, while I brushed my teeth; while I really wanted to just sink into the ground and cease to exist.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d still be alive, or in such a positive place today if I hadn’t had books to whisk me away from my life. I don’t know what other way I’d have handled living in a household where me being myself and being happy was equated to sinfulness and eternal damnation.
Reading about the Shire and Mordor, going to Narnia, visiting Neverland… all these things gave me a welcome and much-needed relief from a life in which I was not allowed to feel, act or speak as myself.
You might call it escapism, but I see it more as survival. You do what you have to do to make the best of a shitty situation. I needed something to get me through a tough time, and books gave me a way to do that.
A few weeks ago, I started to go through an existential crisis. For the majority of my life, I’ve motivated myself by the goal of completing my gender transition, and unhealthy as it seems now, it used to define my identity and life.
Now that I’m finally living as a woman and enjoying it, I started freaking out and worrying about what other meaning I would find in life. It’s scary to have no certain goal when you’ve always been guided by an unerring belief and goal.
Since then, I started reading The Name of the Wind and was blown away (haha) by the fantastic world and writing in the series. I finished the book and its sequel, and have been devouring a couple more books. As always, reading has helped ground me, and given me a way to deal with life and work through things.
Throughout my life, books have been like faithful friends. They’ve given me an escape, and provided comfort when I need it. If I want some fantasy, it’s there, and when I want a little help dealing with life, I can count on them.
Even when I’ve gone a year having only read something like a dozen books, I can still rely on them to be there. It’s wonderful. Books can’t replace human friends, but they can offer a reliability and an unique help in going through life.
I am very grateful to have had them with me throughout my life.