Finding Hope Despite Everything

The clunky sound of metal hitting metal makes all the customers at The Wilderness turn to look out the restaurant’s big front glass windows and onto the Main Street of Colebrook, New Hampshire.

The waitress sprints out the front door, runs to one of the vehicle, which had been backing out of a parking space and into the path of a big, black truck that resembles almost all the big, black trucks people drive here in the northern tip of New Hampshire’s Great White Woods.

A driver’s getting out of the car. The waitress sprints back inside, clutching a young boy – less than a year old – to her chest. Her entire body’s shaking as she holds him, kissing his forehead, once, twice, too many times to count as his tiny bare feet dangle in the air, bumping against her waist.

“He was in the car. He was in the car.” Her words rush out so quickly as she walks in circles around the restaurant that’s really a diner. “He’s okay.”

“Is he okay?” An older man asks even though she just said it.

“He’s okay.” She says it like a mantra, repeating it over and over to make it true. “He’s okay.”

“It’ll all be okay,” the older woman with the older man says, warming the baby boy’s foot in her hands.

“Some day.” The server kisses her baby boy’s head one more time. “You got to have hope, right?”

“Soon,” the lady tells her. “Some day soon.”

It takes the server a half hour to stop shaking. She apologizes as she carries her baby around, taking orders, refilling water, bringing out food with her free hand. Even in that moment of extreme duress, this mom doesn’t stop. She won’t ever stop.

The Great North Woods

The Great North Woods of New Hampshire demands that you don’t stop. It’s a landscape carved in and out of mountains that requires grit to survive. It’s not a land of perfect white churches and 1950s-style New England movies featuring sleigh rides. It’s beautiful, yes, but the beauty is more rugged. The beauty is in the survival.

Presidential hopefuls come to the state, hoping to get a boost. But the state itself is pretty divided between the southern wealthier parts where I grew up and areas like here where houses put up their own make-shift billboards begging for change, struggling for hope.

As a kid in southern New Hampshire, I grew up poor in a town with rapidly increasing wealth. I had teachers tell me that there was no hope for me because my voice was ‘ridiculous.’ I had other teachers tell me that I could do anything.

I was never sure who to believe.

When credit card companies called my mom, I had to pretend she wasn’t home. When we sold our house, I had to pretend it was because we wanted to. When my nana stood in line for us and brought us government cheese, I had to pretend it was real cheese, special cheese from France, when a friend opened our fridge and saw it there.

I was ashamed of being poor, of my voice, of our circumstance.

I was stupid.

There’s nothing shameful about being poor. There’s nothing shameful about circumstances that you can’t control.

Drugs and Shame

While I’m up there, 17 North County residents are arrested in a drug trafficking sweep. Some are arrested outside the Wilderness. Most of the drugs arrests involve Suboxone and meth. At a classroom where I’m teaching for the week, we’re not allowed to talk about the bust because one of the kids is connected. Maybe more than one.

These kids? I’ve talked to thousands of kids, but these kids? They are my favorites.

There is nothing shameful in the mistakes your family members make. They aren’t your mistakes. They are theirs.

I want to somehow explain all that to them. I don’t know how.

Pittsburg is a tiny town without a grocery store and it’s about a half hour from Colebrook. The town has a library, but it’s inside the school and only open on Saturdays to the residents.

“We can’t take out enough books,” one student complains. “It’s so hard.”

Hard Possibilities

Lots of life is hard up here, where an entire eighth and seventh grade class combined is only eight students, where you’re in class with your cousin and everyone knows, as one student tells me, “everything about your life since you were born 25 weeks early.”

That hardness doesn’t mean you should pity them though. These kids are some of the liveliest individuals I’ve ever met, free and comfortable in asserting who they are, grit and all, and still striving for futures and hopes that are still possible.

They are still possible.

They write stories, act out scenes, share their own stories without the slightest bit of hesitation. Whether it’s the UFO sighting above Beaver Falls or the grandmother who had the best restaurant in the area, unless you didn’t finish your meal and then she’d sit on you, it’s all about connections and community and laughter.

Different Worlds

The northern parts of New Hampshire aren’t similar to southern New Hampshire. It’s not just about the geography. It’s also about the economy. The unemployment rate is higher, but the people are underemployed, working below their educations and skill sets. Stores are shuttered. There are no Starbucks or an easy to find McDonalds.

There are good things happening too. Robotech is about to hire 25 people at its new facility. There’s a proposal to make a community college in a place where there was once a mill. Snowmobilers come and so do summer tourists on ATVs.

But as one student tells me, “Sometimes it gets so lonely. It’s like the world forgets us.”

Another one nods, “I just can’t wait to get out.”

“Where will you go?” I ask.

“Anywhere. Anywhere.” She sits back in her chair, arms crossed, eyes toward the ceiling. Her face loses its hope.

“Maybe you could take that UFO over Beaver Falls,” another kid tells her.

They dissolve into teasing, giggles, and more stories. Kids again. Just kids. Momentarily not worrying about drug trafficking busts, the economy, getting away, but just laughing. The way it’s supposed to be. A way free of other people’s verdicts and edicts, no shame, no fear, just existing, just being who they are meant to be right now – kids.

READ MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things! 

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WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

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IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

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The Politics of Hope and Despair and Anger

This weekend one of my tweets was put in a Twitter Moment, which are ‘curated stories’ that someone puts together almost like a slideshow. And it was a little strange because while there were suddenly thousands of likes, there were also some random people saying that I made the tweet/interaction up.

And part of me was like, “Wow. They think I’m that clever! That’s so nice.”

And another part of me was like, “Wow. Humanity is pretty sad if people are grumpy about my tweet.”

And then there was a whole other aspect when a couple of people used my tweet to expose their hate about lesbians.

“Don’t look,” my friends told me. “Just don’t even read the comments. There’s nothing you can do.”

 

Hope and despair and anger.

In politics they can be collective movements, ways to band together. And right now many of my friends are full of despair and longing for hope. And a couple of my friends are full of hope. And some are full of anger. And I am full of all of those emotions and more.

And I worry for all of us.

“All we need is… all we need is hope and for that we have each other,” Andra Day sings in her song ‘Rise Up,’ which you should absolutely go listen to whenever possible because it’s a brilliant song by a talented woman.

Pluralism

Back in 1993, John Rawls talked about how in a pluralistic society with multiple points of views and desired outcomes, there can be no final consensus amongst us, its citizens.

My tweet was a little bit of evidence about that, but Rawls is talking more about government and political outcomes.

He argued that governments can’t make all citizens happy, so all we can expect is for the government to go after those main causes that almost everyone agrees on – human rights, to not discriminate, to make decisions in a democratic and rational way. Anything bigger than that? It’s impossible to achieve.

And this is sort of amusing now (in a bad way) because it seems that even those main causes are no longer agreed upon. I mean, I’ve been trolled for writing about sexual trafficking and human trafficking. It seems like ending human slavery would be one of those main causes that everyone agrees on. And yet…?

Self Respect

Decades before this, back in the 1970s, Rawls noted that the self respect is integral. A citizen of a society can only have self respect when she/he/they know that their country is committed to justice and fair treatment for them.

And that expectation – that they matter, that they won’t be discriminated against, that the laws are fair – is currently being dismantled for a lot of Americans and for many Americans, that expectation has been pretty fragile for awhile now because of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, physical ability, and class.  For some of the disenfranchised that expectation has barely existed ever. Yet, there needs to be hope that that expectation will exist and will be met, that we will all be heard, treated with dignity, be free and safe to worship, marry, vote, learn, and live without threat of bodily harm.

So how do you find hope?

Remember these things:

  1. Younger generations are smart and charged up.
  2. More diverse people are running for office
  3. The more extreme people get, the more there becomes a call for the middle – and leaders for that middle. Consensus builders. We need consensus builders in a world of polarities.
  4. The stripping away of belief in institutions and in our selves actually leads us towards a collective orientation towards hope again, towards something we can (or most of us can) work towards. Because all the good guys want rights, want respect, want others to be respected, too.

As Sam Dresser writes, “When political movements seek to rekindle hope, they are not acting on the assumption that individual people no longer hope for things – they are building on the idea that hope does not currently shape our collective orientation toward the future. The promise of a ‘politics of hope’ is thus the promise that hope for social justice will become part of the sphere of collective action, of politics itself.”

Hope and despair and anger? They can co-exist. They can lead to action. They aren’t definitive states. I despair that some people are evil and I’m angry at injustices, but I hope that I can take action and change things and that we can collectively rise about those things, and that I personally can become a better human. I hope you’ll do that, too.

My despair and anger can lead to hope and action and change. The emotions can overlap and coexist just like people do. But to do that, we have to ‘have each other,’ as Andra Day sings.

So, let’s do that. Let’s have each other instead of having at each other.

WRITING NEWS

NEED is on sale for Kindle sales on Amazon for a mere $1,99 this month. Snatch it up!

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ENHANCED, the follow-up to FLYING is here! And the books are out of this world. Please buy them and support a writer.

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The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.

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How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email barharbor@shermans.com for Sherman’s or email info@briarpatchbooks.comand let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

Art Stuff

You can buy prints of my art here. Thank you so much for supporting my books and me and each other. I hope you have an amazing day.

A new episode of Dogs are Smarter Than People, the quirky podcast with writing tips, life tips and a random thought comes out tomorrow! Check it out, like and subscribe!

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Bears Like Me

One night a long while ago, due to a top secret mission (that involved NOTHING illegal or alcohol, I swear) I came home at 4:30 a.m.  When I stepped out of the MINI, I was sort of weirded out.

There was a noise in the woods.

Hm, I thought, pixies?

No, I thought. Pixies are just in my NEED books. They aren’t actually in the woods.

This thought did not help since the things in my books tend to happen to me in real life after I write them. So being a calm and normal writer, I freaked out and ran inside. Tala, the Super Dog (who is no longer with us) was waiting at the door.

She leapt on me, kissed me, and then Tala the Super Dog reminded me that she is Tala the Super Pee Dog. She made her needs very clear by running around in circles by the door and giving me puppy dog sad eyes.

Tala: Seriously? It’s a long night when you can’t use a toilet.

So, I snapped on the leash and brought her outside. She immediately went into SOMETHING IS WRONG mode and started smelling in circles and growling and sniffing, hauling me up the driveway with her leash fully extended and totally ignoring all my please to sit, stay, slow down, and just-stop-for-the-love-of-God-just stop.

She was a Pyr. They don’t listen when they think they know better than you do. This is so true that there are memes and gifs about it.

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So, I held on and prayed.

And that is when there was a noise in the big long grass by the side of the driveway.
And that is when I stopped walking.
And that is when I started murmuring, Please don’t let evil pixies be real.
And that is when Tala freaked out completely.

It was not ‘freaking out,’ human. It was DOGGY DEFENSE MODE! Geesh.

She lunged and growled and then got very still. I wrapped the leash around my wrists and held on with both hands. All of Tala’s doggy hairs stood up straight. So, um, did mine.

And that is when the bear came out of the underbrush.
And that is when the bear got all bristly.

And that is when Tala got macho and all, YOU ARE SO NOT COMING ANY CLOSER BEAR.
And that is when the bear got all, OH YEAH . YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE ME?

And that is when I thought, ALL THE OTHER BLACK BEARS I’VE EVER MET WERE SHY.
And that is when I thought, OH MAN!!! OH MAN!!! IT’S GOING TO KILL MY SUPER DOG.

And that is when I got super human strength and somehow yanked Tala back and ran in reverse into the garage, dragging her the whole way.

Tala: Let me just say, I let it her drag me back. Carrie is a pacifist. She couldn’t have handled the gore. Plus, I didn’t want to humiliate that bear. Bears have such egos.

Anyway, I have seen a lot of bears in the woods and I have never been scared of them, not ever, but that morning? Totally different story.

And it kind of reminds me of my life right now. All these normal things like writing and revising and blogging and living, walking dogs, hugging friends, things I love, have all become a tiny bit scary. And even when other people try to protect me, it’s really up to me to hang on and do the right thing and haul butt into the garage and regroup.

Is your life ever like that?

If it is, I’m sending you a Tala. If it is, I want you to have hope. If it is, I want you to know that you are important and beautiful and you matter.

But even though they are a tiny bit scary, I still love these things, even people. Yes, even the scary people. I hope you can find love and hope, too.

Here’s the only thing I know: It’s worth it to go up the driveway and face the bears.

WRITING NEWS

NEED is on sale for Kindle sales on Amazon for a mere $1,99 this month. Snatch it up! :

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LINK TO BUYING THIS BAD BOY

ENHANCED, the follow-up to FLYING is here! And the books are out of this world. Please buy them and support a writer.

31702754 copy

The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.

Timestoppers3_005

How to Get Signed Copies: 

If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For signed copies – email barharbor@shermans.com for Sherman’s or email info@briarpatchbooks.comand let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!

Art Stuff

You can buy prints of my art here. Thank you so much for supporting my books and me and each other. I hope you have an amazing day.

A new episode of Dogs are Smarter Than People, the quirky podcast with writing tips, life tips and a random thought comes out tomorrow! Check it out, like and subscribe!