Book Review: Three Parts Dead

While I’m taking classes over the summer and studying for the GRE, I’m also working on getting caught up with some reading that is way overdue. I have a summer reading list that is currently about 30 titles long, and I’m sure I’ll be adding titles to that list as the year goes on. My staple genre will always be fantasy, and the last book I read is no exception to that.

Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone, the first of the Craft Sequence, begins with the death of a god and the Craftswomen who have been called to investigate the cause. The magic wielded by Crafters is nothing other than the necromantic arts. They can resurrect the dead – up to a point. There is something about dying that prevents complete resurrection. The personality cannot be held intact. And Tara Abernathy, the main character, has been enlisted to aid a more experienced Crafter in her investigation into the death of a god, Kos the Everburning.

In Three Parts Dead, Gladstone has managed to combine fantasy and legislation in a way that makes investigation seem three parts danger, one part paperwork – and even the paperwork can be deadly. There are gargoyles, vampires, necromancers, gods, and humans that all have separate agendas, and Gladstone does an amazing job weaving these plot elements together. I rarely find books that are able to surprise me, but the foreshadowing he uses is so subtle that the resolution of the plot isn’t made completely clear until the end of the book. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I’m particularly impressed with his skill in weaving such complexity into a book that became a page-turner. I consumed it in three hours, and I’ve put the rest of the series on hold at my county library.

Gladstone took some impressive risks with this book, especially when it comes to combining law and fantasy. I’m not sure that it has ever been done before, and this book is far too underrepresented for how apt a writer Gladstone is. On top of combining two risky genres, the main character in the story is a black woman. Within the fantasy genre, minorities are still incredibly underrepresented, and Gladstone’s contribution in that area was (and continues to be) sorely needed.

No matter the reason you pick up this book, I have a hard time imagining anyone who would be displeased with it. For me, the first book of this series, the Craft Sequence, was such an amazing read that it has gained a spot in my top ten fantasy series of all time – and considering how well-read I am within the fantasy genre, that’s no mean feat.

Poem: I Shake

I shake when I meet someone new,

but I know they cannot see the tremor

because I have learned to hide it so

well sometimes I even fool myself

into thinking that I’m not constantly

worrying about what it is that this

new person is thinking about me.

 

I learned to hide the fear, the anxiety

I had that the people that I liked

would fail to like me in return, that

the people who I met would find me

wanting in a way I wouldn’t understand,

a way I wouldn’t be able to fix because

the trouble would have to be with me.

 

I learned to view the people who didn’t

like me the way I liked them, the ones

who found no worth in me – I learned

to see them as the ones to turn to, the

ones to ask about the problems with me

so that I could fix myself as if I were a

broken tool in need of serious repair.

 

I don’t remember when I started to see

myself as a broken object, a tool that

had no function except that function

the people around me gave me, as if

I was nothing more than the item they

could use to assuage their own fears.

 

I don’t remember when I shook that,

when I started to view myself as human,

as a person, worthy of care and respect

in return for being human, being here,

but somewhere along the way I stopped

viewing myself as a tool for others to use

to vent their own anger, their own tears.

 

I shake when I meet someone new because

I am asking myself what I should expect –

will this new person treat me like a tool

or will they treat me like a human, and

what is it I need to do to make sure they

don’t mistake me for the former –

 

And I shake because I know I act against

the grain, I know I make people shy away

because I don’t fit into their definitions of

normal, and I worry that I’m going to have

to defend myself against an onslaught of

disapproval, of distaste, of disdain.

 

I hear others talk about how they act against

society because they don’t care what others

think about them, and inside, I am squirming

because I do care; I care so much it hurts, and

I don’t go against the grain because it’s expected –

it’s part of who I am, woven into the very fabric

of the person I have become, and I won’t reject

any of the experiences that have come to define me.

 

I can face rejection, I can face hatred, and I can

face it when the new people I meet decide that

I am not worth their time, not worth their respect

because they learn something about me they

don’t like. But facing it doesn’t mean it doesn’t

hurt, doesn’t cut to the bone, doesn’t make me

want to scream and cry and rage until I’m hoarse.

 

I shake when I meet someone new because

I know the odds are stacked against me – I know

that there are so many parts of me that society

rejects out of hand, but I don’t hate the people

who hate me for what they do not understand.

It hurts me, cuts me deeply, but I feel sorrow far

more often than I feel anger or betrayal.

 

Because I love to meet new people, to learn their stories,

to hear their tales and try to understand their lives

from the perspectives in which those lives were lived.

There are so many people, so many lives, so many paths

that are so similar and yet so different, and there is such a

myriad of human experience it steals my breath away.

 

Yet, I shake when I meet new people, and it may be

that I will always shake – out of fear of being judged

yet again, out of excitement at the prospect of meeting

a new friend – and I will always care too much.

That’s part of who I am, who I have become, and

I can accept who I am, even as my voice trembles

and my body shivers as I greet someone new –

I will always speak my truth, even if I shake.

Poem: Waiting

Waiting

I remember nights spent

staring at walls, waiting

for the fighting to stop,

waiting for a moment to

breathe before the world

around me fell apart.

 

I remember the solidness

of my sister as she lay beside

me, holding her breath at the

same time I was holding mine,

waiting for the chaos to pass.

 

I remember the yelling, the

words that never quite fit

together in rational patterns

and the solid thump of fists

meeting flesh while waiting,

frozen in tension, frozen in fear.

 

I remember never knowing

what the next moment held

contained within it, always

looking ahead with an eye to

the next moment I would be

holding my breath, waiting.

 

I remember so much waiting

that it is as if my entire life

became a collection of moments,

of snapshots of frozen terror,

to be relived over and over, as

each coalesced into waiting.

 

Waiting for the next terror,

for the next abuse, for the

next harsh word, the next

physical blow – the violence

turned into what I expected,

became what I waited for.

 

Now, I wait with breath held

for the next moment of frozen

terror to lift its head from where

it lays dormant – sometimes, I wish

it would rise, give chase – at least

then, I could finally stop waiting.

Reflection #5: The Challenge of Integrity

One of the difficult things about language is that words can often be empty. It’s easy to play lip-service to ideals, hard to live up to them. I’ve always prided myself on matching my morals to my actions, but I don’t often find myself in situations where I have to prove that I live by my morals.

That is probably because I make it a point to surround myself with people who I know aren’t going to act in ways that are counter to my own sense of morality. Among my friends, respect for others tends to be high on our list of priorities, so there’s not much reason for me to act in a way that implies defense of my own morality.

One of the principles that I have always lived by is that I do not tolerate disrespect shown to my friends, especially when my friends aren’t there to defend themselves. This has been true for me at least since middle school, when I broke away from a friendship because that person disparaged one of my other friends. However, I was a very different person in middle school than I am today. Back then, I was much more aggressive in the defense of my friends, and I didn’t care about the potential ramifications of my actions or the fact that I could potentially find myself alienated because I chose to defend someone that the rest of the group was disparaging.

Fast forward to now, almost fifteen years later, where I’m in college and much more aware – almost painfully so – of the potential fallout my actions can cause. The words I say, the actions I take – everyone around me is so much more aware of those that if I say the wrong phrase, people assume that I mean something I didn’t intend to say at all. It’s almost like I have to walk on eggshells to be able to say anything at all if I want to keep from offending the people around me or at least keep from being misunderstood.

It took me years to accept that people typically misunderstand me when I speak…it’s why I spend so much time writing. For some reason, in written language, I make more sense than I do when I speak. Maybe it’s because when I write, people don’t get the chance to interrupt me and thus cause me to lose my train of thought. I can say what I mean the way I mean it without having to constantly be on guard for the potential misinterpretation of my words through the patterns of the sentences I choose to use to convey my message. As a writer, of course, I have to be aware of this, but I can do so by reviewing what I have written. Once words leave my mouth, it’s very hard to back up and rephrase something that is misunderstood in a way that makes the original meaning clear.

In either case, communication is a delicate art. When I am around others, however, I am continuously aware of the potential for misinterpretation of the words I say. Because of this, I am also always aware of the potential misunderstandings of the actions I choose to take. This constant vigilance – it’s really hyper-vigilance caused by two decades of not quite fitting in (the gift/curse of ADHD) – can make it much more difficult to act with integrity in situations where it is called for.

Last week, however, I was powerfully reminded of what it means to have the courage of conviction. In a small group meeting, someone brought up one of my friends and started a conversation centered around trash-talking this person and making fun of this person. I don’t know if it was supposed to be a way for the person doing the talking to feel better – I don’t really care. I managed to listen to two sentences of disparagement against my friend before I couldn’t handle the situation. I stood up, told the group that I wasn’t going to remain in the room where my friend was being trash-talked, and I left.

The emotions I felt while doing so, however, were fairly complicated. I was angry that my friend was being trash-talked, of course. I was frustrated because the people in the room are also my friends and they were indulging in gossip, which is harmful to the target, especially when so many of them are advocates for different types of movements. But the one thing I wasn’t expecting to feel was on the verge of tears. Granted, when I get truly angry, I have a tendency to cry – when I’m furious, I cry, and it takes a lot to push me there. But that wasn’t the reason I was on the verge of tears. No, when I left, I was also highly aware that the group could end up trash-talking me in turn because I chose to remove myself from the situation. I refused to conform to their expectations, and I was highly aware that my actions may cause them to resent me.

As far as I am aware thus far, however, that hasn’t happened. I heard that there was some concern that I wouldn’t show up for a meeting later that night because there was concern I was genuinely angry (I was). That doesn’t mean the trash-talking didn’t happen, or that it won’t in the future. It just means that I was highly aware of every potential ramification of the choice I made by walking away from them when they were trash-talking one of my other friends, and I had the strength to do it anyway.

It would have been far easier to sit there and listen to the disparagement of my friend, to never expose myself to the potential for backlash, and to pretend that everything that was going on around me was okay with me. But my commitment to my integrity allowed me to make the harder choice, to take the harder path. Walking away from a situation like that is in no ways easy, and turning words into actions rather than let them remain empty – that is where the real challenge of integrity resides.

Reflection #4: Observation and ADHD Resources

This isn’t really a reflection, more an observation. Out of the last few things I’ve posted, I see that people have gravitated towards my post about ADHD and the relationship I have with the medication I take.

That got me thinking about whether there is enough information on the web for people who have ADHD to really explore, and I mean the real-life stuff that people care about rather than the science. I know there are some of us who love the science stuff – I actually own the book “ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says” by Russel A. Barkley, Kevin R. Murphy, and Mariellen Fischer (experts in the field).

But what most people want to know about ADHD is what life is like when you have it, not about the science. That’s true of anything though – we tend to be drawn to experiences rather than explanations, as we can see better through other people’s eyes than we can through the scientific nitty-gritty facts. It’s just how we’re hardwired.

So, as I was thinking about that, I was thinking about what kind of blogs and websites about ADHD exist, and there are a lot of them. Not all of them are high quality, of course (fact #1 of the internet: you can’t trust everything you read on the internet), but there are a few. All of the ones I am going to mention deals primarily with Adult ADHD, which, to be fair, can present some problems when you’re looking for resources.

The Websites

ADHD in Adults: This is where experts talk about ADHD, so it’s still pretty heavy on the science side of things. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting there – for someone who has ADHD, it is imperative that you learn exactly what it means to have the condition. Living with it is unavoidable, but the more you know about ADHD, the better off you are in terms of your ability to cope with it. This is probably the best site to keep up with the current research about ADHD.

ADHD Roller Coaster: This blog is run by Gina Pera, who is the author of “Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone Your Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder” , and there are both personal stories and research-based news pieces on this site. This is a good place to go for a blend of professional and personal.  She has written other books, but this title is the one I own, so it is the one I chose to mention.

Totally ADD: This website is run by Rick and Ava Green, two Canadians who are responsible for the documentaries ADD & Loving It?! and ADD & Mastering It! The website itself is more of a blog where the two of them discuss the personal ramifications of dealing with ADHD, particularly the difficulties those who have ADHD face.

In addition to websites, there are some pretty good books that I’d recommend to anyone who has ADHD. A lot of them are science heavy, but there are a few that are books written by those with ADHD to share their personal experience with the disorder.

ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says by Russel A. Barkley, Kevin R. Murphy, and Mariellen Fischer. I mentioned this book very briefly, but it is one of the best books on the current science surrounding the condition. Barkley is the leading authority on ADHD, and he is the one who demonstrated that executive functioning is what is most-impaired in those who have ADHD, which was such a critical finding that a case could be made that his research completely changed the way ADHD is handled as a diagnosis as well as the way further research on the condition has been done.

Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, as well as their other books including Delivered from Distraction and Answers to Distraction are invaluable books. They were among some of the first I read when I was diagnosed, and I can’t properly express how much the science combined with the anecdotes of others with ADHD helped me come to terms with the disorder.

I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not by Wes Crenshaw may easily be the book that finally gave me the tools I needed to be able to cope with ADHD on a day-to-day basis without feeling like I was spinning out of control. He offers 13 principles for people who have ADHD to utilize, and I have found all of them to be incredibly useful. Out of all the books I have listed thus far, this is the book I would recommend if you read no other book at all.

Here’s to Not Catching Our Hair on Fire by Stacey Turis. This is a book that is 100% anecdote, as Stacey takes us through what she experienced as a gifted individual who happened to also have ADHD. This book is invaluable because it reaffirms the fact that ADHD does not discriminate based on IQ. This helps put to rest the idea that a person can be “too smart” to have the condition – which was something I heard a lot from some of my family members when I was first diagnosed.

There are, of course, many more resources, but these are the ones I’d recommend first to anyone who seriously wants more information about what ADHD is, how it impacts your life, and how to manage it.

Reflection #3: The Problem with Being P.C.

I’m not a P.C. person. Never have been, never will be. Which means, of course, that I get looks of outrage because I don’t censor myself, I don’t issue trigger warnings, and I don’t apologize for what I say unless I am saying something intentionally to cause offense. If someone takes offense from something I say that I don’t mean intentionally, that’s 100% on them, not on me.

I’m of the firm belief that intent matters more than impact, even though it seems the current climate of our culture is trying to insist otherwise. Impact means more because impact is what people hear, what people take in, what they feel, and hurt feelings are anathema to today’s world. That’s why the usage of trigger warnings has gotten to the point that even university professors are putting them in their syllabus.

The name of the game seems to have become “See who can spot the microaggression first.” Microaggression, incidentally, used to refer only to race in its inception back in 1970. Today, however, it is applied to everything possible. There seems to be this rampant idea that people need to own the unintentional harm that they cause. Especially when the person assuming that a microaggresion is occurring fails to take into consideration that they may be making assumptions of their own about the identities of the person in question.

Couple with that, however, is this idea that people who belong to dominant identity groups can never be harmed unintentionally or intentionally by people of marginalized identity groups. In that vein, it’s perfectly acceptable to completely dismiss the viewpoint of a white male because he has white privilege, so of course his viewpoint is invalid. And he also has male privilege, so his viewpoint is doubly invalid. If he happens to be Christian as well, then his viewpoint is triply invalid. If he is straight, quadruply invalid. The higher number of dominant group identities you hold, the less serious you’re taken.

Which is, in a word, absurd. Like, seriously? If someone who is a white straight Christian male has an educated perspective, his perspective shouldn’t be dismissed just because he happens to belong to dominant identities groups. The fact is, p.c. culture has led us to this ridiculous belief that we must qualify our statements with all our marginalized identity groups in order to be taken seriously. The more marginalized we are, the more serious our views are taken.

Because of that, I am actually refusing, in this article, to disclose any of my identity groups. Because what I identify as should not determine the validity of my arguments or lend weight to my arguments. When it comes to academic arguments, the only thing that should have any weight at all is the credentials a person holds.

I went to a leadership workshop a while back where the big 8 social identities were discussed. There was some literature about five stages of dialogue, and rather than take the credentials as they stood, one of the participants asked (in a rather nasty tone), “Was the man a cisgender straight white man?” Like that mattered more than the actual credentials the man had earned by doing the necessary research! The workshop leader answered, “He’s none of those things,” and then moved along, but I could tell even she was taken aback by the question.

And this is the reason I refuse to be P.C. in my speech. I don’t know when we started to believe as a society that a person’s impact mattered more than their intentions, but I frankly find it ridiculous. If someone tells me that I need to stop being lazy or stop over-analyzing the world around me, I’m not going to assume that they are judging me. I don’t know their intent, and intent matters to me. If I am offended by the language someone uses, then the fact that I am offended lies with me and me alone. I am the one who decides how I take the words that someone else says to me. I am not going to internalize the potential harm of a potential microaggression – the only person harmed by that is me. The fact that others out there do allow perceived microaggressions to become internalized reasons for their hatred of people with dominant identities is ridiculous.

Now, when it comes to macroaggressions – those are an actual problem. If someone blatantly states that the reason that they don’t respect someone is because they belong to a particular identity group, that’s a real problem. If someone says “I don’t respect my teacher because he’s black,” that’s a macroaggression, racist, and a real issue that needs to be addressed. That’s not a microaggression which are generally statements that unintentionally cause harm. That’s a truly aggressive statement. On the same side of that, however, if someone says “I don’t respect my teacher because he’s an old white guy,” that’s also a macroaggresion! No matter what identity group you belong to, when you make a value statement about another individual in an identity group you don’t belong to, you are being a judgmental asshole. Full stop.

Let’s try to remember, for the love of all things sacred, that at the end of the day, each person we deal with is a human being. That’s all that should matter. Not the color of a person’s skin, not their age, not their sexual orientation, not their gender, not their physical/mental ailments, not their political affiliation….NOTHING ELSE. The thing that we have that connects ALL OF US is  the fact that we are HUMAN. So can we please stop fucking separating ourselves into groups that then subdivide further and further until nothing resembling compassion is left?

Stop fucking dismissing people because you disagree with the way they identify or because they happen to fall into a dominant group. White people are white the same way black people are black. Straight people are straight the way LGBTQIA+ people are inherently LGBTQIA+ people. These aren’t fucking choices – these are things we are born with. So stop issuing value judgments towards those whose birthed identities are literally beyond our control.

Every life is valuable. Every perspective matters. Every story counts. So, no matter who you are or where you come from, if you’ve ever discredited someone else’s perspective simply because of their skin color, gender, etc., then you are part of the fucking problem. Whether you belong to the dominant or subordinate identity groups doesn’t fucking matter. If you see potential offense in everything someone says that may potentially invalidate your identity, you are part of the problem because you are perpetuating the myth of victimhood. You are turning yourself into a victim, and self-victimizing is not a great avenue to affect any kind of change in the world. The people who have changed the course of history have done so by refusing to let the world victimize them and refusing to victimize themselves. Can you imagine someone like Martin Luther King refusing to listen to a white person because they just happened to have been born white or straight?

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he says:

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high place of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Not to mention, the man won a Nobel Peace Prize. He didn’t believe in violence, at all. In his acceptance speech, he says, ”

…Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

….Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

So why the fuck are we okay with creating language that divides and divides and divides until even communities that should be standing together are separating from each other? For a man who affected some of the greatest change that our country has ever seen, we certainly are terrible at taking his lessons to heart.

A Bit of Speed Reading Fun

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

I hadn’t actually tested how fast I read in awhile, so I was curious as to what this little test would reveal. My results – 1920 words per minute. There’s a chart on the test at the end that shows you where your reading skills line up with the rest of the world. 1500 words per minute is the rate at which speed readers are found, with 700 words per minute being the rate at which college professors read, and 300 words per minute being the rate at which the average college student reads (the top percent of college students read at a rate of around 800 words per minute). The national average is between 200 – 250 words per minutes.

Granted, there are tricks to reading fast while maintaining comprehension, and there are articles out there about those tricks if you want to learn how to read quickly. I actually read fast because if I don’t, my comprehension drops. Comes from loving to read but having to contend with the difficulties created by having ADHD. While a lot of ADHDers end up being slow readers because of difficulty in concentrating on walls of text… I went the other route. I learned to read so fast that I didn’t have to think about the fact I was concentrating. I learned to consume information. So, I don’t know what tricks to share with you…at this point, I can take in every word on a page just by glancing at it. How I developed the skill? I’m really not so sure.

Anyways, have some fun with the reading test. It’s always interested to find out where you stack up compared to the national average.