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Anxiety-filled lungs

I feel like I’m living in a body that has to constantly remind itself that it’s okay. Like I’m in the emergency room and the doctor keeps pointing at his pain chart from 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst pain ever and all I can do is flash him double hands over and over again — 10, 10, 10! And you did this to me. You never gave me a chance to be able to breathe on my own. There were no gradual steps to this ending. You just let me fall.

Prematurely developed lungs were your gifts to me after two years. I am unable to breathe deeply or involuntarily. You took my breath away, but not in the good way. You stole that ability and it pisses me off so much I want to scream. But you’ve made me silent… everywhere but on the inside. 

The inside is loudly busy always turning, mixing acid with an empty stomach because I can’t eat much. My heart burns so much that my skins gets goosebumps from the panic within it. I feel nauseated when I remember that you can move on to another girl so fast after claiming to me that you shouldn’t be with anyone. You said you were lost and I could see it because we were going in circles, ending up nowhere. We were lost, but yet you were always so much farther gone than me. I wanted to give you that space because it was the only thing I hadn’t tried yet. 

I know nothing is perfect, but damn it, I tried. Every damn day, I tried to be what you needed, what I thought you wanted. I gave you everything I had from energy, to prayers at night, to promises of a lifetime. So even though we were lost and you were too far gone deep down, I tried to give and give and fill and fill. 

I saw your smile every once in awhile and it gave me hope. Hope that you were still in there somewhere, trying to heal yourself to be able to make us better again. But it was the deceiving kind of hope. You were trying for no one but you. So when you told me that you shouldn’t be with anyone, I believed you because I had nothing left to try. You already had my everything. 

I just wish you would have known enough not to betray what we both know you needed – some time alone to find yourself, to find your true set of beliefs, and to do the hard work that is building yourself into someone who can give and give to someone else eventually. You’re not ready now. You know that too.

I’ve been trying to suck air into my lungs long enough to properly ventilate my brain so it can take over my heart’s feelings and tell the love I still have for you that it’s wrong. That I don’t have to love you anymore. That I don’t want to love you anymore. 

I don’t want to because you left me with nothing but anxiety.

But yet here I lie, once again, by myself instructing my lungs to breathe and telling my stomach that everything will get better. Give it time. Stay busy. Be out of town. Read a book. Stay at work longer. Take on more. Write it out. Focus on me.

But no one understands, I can’t breathe. 

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The last day

Written: March 12, 2018 at 5:37 a.m.

I bought a king-sized bed so we could sleep together more comfortably. But then you wanted separate comforters. I told myself it was fine and even made it into a joke to others to cover for the reality of the space you were dividing between us in one of the most intimate spaces. It later turned out to be a waste because now I sleep there alone and fill your side with stuffed animals and blankets. 

I got a two-bedroom place when we moved in together, specifically so our guests would feel more comfortable and we could have family stay close when they visited. But it turned into a place you stayed after arguments. A place where you once gathered as many clothes you could into laundry baskets borrowed from your parents’ house and declared you’ll just live in there until the lease was up. It turned into a space I dreaded, and worried about. A place I hated. 

I looked for a place in between our two work locations to make it as even as it could be. It was Ankeny – the closest livable city with more than a Subway to call home. It was even by the interstate, easy hop on, hop off. But it only caused complaining and more negativity in our relationship – too far for you, too close for me. It’s turned into a place I hate.

I took on more responsibilities at work to be distracted from the unhappiness at home. To soak up the time I had to lose, the energy I needed to waste, and the anxiety that always came at home. Something had to keep me afloat, keep me happy. Thank god work is good this year. I have thought numerous times how much of life I’d give up on if work, too, was like home.

I gave us too many unrealistic expectations. I chose to live in a dream. Obviously, it was too much pressure to stand what was real. How much we weren’t meant to be, or how much we were, but were too stressed to make it happen. I chose too many times to believe it would change… if only we lived together, if only the distance would shrink, if only I thought more about the words that I spoke, if only I tried harder to give you space to think, if only I hung on through grad school, if only I could make it back to when we were happy…

If only.

I’m not sure what to take away from this because I’ve never felt broken before. I mean, life has sucked before and I’ve cried before, but not like this. Not after the energy I’ve put in to us has been sucked from my body so quickly that I think my lungs could never inflate again. Not after the gasps for air to keep myself conscious. I don’t know what to do after. 

I’ve never prayed for sleep to overtake the sadness and leave me with blackness before. I’ve never wished for something meant to be so beautiful to just end before. Cut me now and let me bleed until I can bandage myself and become stronger. Because I will; it’s the only choice and there’s always hope, right?

You told me there’s hope, which is how humans survive every day. Hope for a better tomorrow; hope to reach the sky and live the dreams we created as children. Well, you were one one of my dreams. And you were one of the first people to show me hope, that there’d be happiness after so many years of doubt and questions and loneliness. I tried to set up the best life for us, together. Always together. And I guess now I have to learn to accept that no matter what I did, it would never be enough. I guess that’s something I need to reflect on as I box up my half of this two-bedroom place in Ankeny that never really lived up to our expectations. I really don’t know what to do with the king-sized bed because your imprint is right next to mine, and sleeping in the middle only hurts my back. It’s too much room for one person.

It’s 5:43 a.m. and I’ve been up for an hour now. I woke up and then remembered, goosebumps and nausea overtook me, and I looked at Instagram for a while. I then noticed you were in the second bedroom with the door closed. I’m not sure what to think about that because it was late when we broke up and being on the road would be dangerous. You didn’t stay to fix things. And even if you wake up in a few hours and want to, I know we are both too broken to do anything anymore. I can’t do this twice, I can’t watch you pack up another laundry basket of your things.

I kind of hope I don’t see you leave because I don’t think I can replay that for the coming months. I don’t think I can heal from that. 

I hope you know I love you and have loved you since the moment your shaky hands cut the stems of the flowers I got you on our first date. Since you lay next to me on my couch, had me listen to “Cowboys and Angels,” then said “Te amo.” I only asked “Are you sure?” because I needed to know before I jumped in completely. You said, “Yes, I love you,” so I jumped. 

“I love you too.”

That was two years ago. Two years ago next week, to be exact. Time is the devil, isn’t it? I think that fact crushed me even more when I woke up and watched the hallway for three hours until you coughed, peeked into our … my room and then sneaked off to the bathroom. I lay there holding my breath not knowing if I should fake sleep or move so you would notice I was awake. You came in and we were both ellipses, sitting there with air and nothing else. Stuck in a pause. 

We cried on the stairs for a bit, apologizing for last night, for the words said and not meant. But the end was still the same. Just a week shy of two years is all our love story was. Anxiety for another person to leave me was inevitable, but unexpected consciously. I thought I could handle it. But I’m not really surprised it’s hard; I just feel stupid and a little bit tired. Maybe that’s what your first breakup when you actually gave a shit feels like. 

We’ll both gain perspective and feel the way we feel. We’ll make things work as roommates until my new lease starts in May or until you get a job someplace far away. Then life will roll along like normal. Hopefully we look back with a smile after the pain subsides and know that we felt love and had fun, but it just wasn’t what the world had in store. I hope nothing but the best for you. And I know you wish the same for me. 

So I’ll take one more deep breath and reassure myself for the hundredth time that “I’ll be okay” and each day take one more step away from us. Not because I want to, but because it’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s what we should do. And even though it makes me sick to my stomach and my chest fill with anxiety so tight I have to remind myself to breathe, the future will bring better. I’m sure of it, for both of us. 

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I am an educator.

I remember my mom sitting next to me at the kitchen island in tears. We finally talked out me being gay, choosing to be me instead of hiding among the other faces in the crowds, giving myself the best chance at finding love. She knew I wouldn’t be a silent gay, she knew I wouldn’t be shaken by ignorance, and she knew I would be a voice for the queer community. She never said those things, but she knows what kind of person I am. I have always been unable to be silenced, I have always been passionate. I stand up for what’s right. Being gay is an extra step in everything I do – from holding my girlfriend’s hand at Target to renting a townhouse in a conservative community or trusting new friends, colleagues, students with my true identity.

It’s an extra thought behind almost everything… like today, I am meeting a landlord to look at a townhouse and it’s a townhouse for my girlfriend Jessy and me. I called her a roommate over the phone. Not because I am an inch ashamed of her and our love, it’s for safety, it’s for a nonjudgmental chance at this property, and frankly, it’s none of his business.

It’s an extra step in life and it will be. It’ll get better, I hope, depending on which community, city, state, neighborhood we choose long term. All of these decisions will be made intentionally. It was advised to me by other gay couples who have bought houses, moved to several states, and have lived through different legislation on their lives. It’s a part of my reality.

So when my mom cried, she was not upset about me being gay. She is proud of me for being me and wants happiness for me. She cried because it adds a layer to the bullshit society layers on people who buck the norm. The white, straight, Christian male norm. If you aren’t all of those things, you’re marginalized. You, in some cases, are a “pre-existing condition” under the new healthcare plan set by our presidential administration. #womenunite

I looked at my mom and told her that I will never be silenced, I will never not be myself, I will never ever not love who I want to love or get where I want to be in life. Being gay isn’t a symptom of a harder life. Being gay is a part of making me happy. The LGBTQ community needs my voice, it needs my passion.

I am an educator in Des Moines; in one of the most diverse districts in Iowa. I am also an educator in my friend group; a very straight friend group. I am an educator to my acquaintances; a both close- and open-minded group. Every single person is an educator. It is my job to educate my students on English and journalism. It is also my responsibility to make them see their peers as their brothers and sisters, teammates, and supporters. Although I teach many of my family and friends about proper grammar in a fun sense, when they want to learn more about LGBTQ topics (not ‘issues’ because I am not an ‘issue’), I am their educator, pointing them to what I know and then referencing articles, laws, and resources to help them understand further.

I will be educating the people around me until the day I die, hopefully not so intensely in a few years when the younger generation takes over in the government. But I knew damn well once I came out as gay, I would be accepting that role. I knew damn well I would be challenged with hard and honest questions. I knew I would be discriminated against, bullied, misunderstood. It’s hard for anyone not to be anymore. But I knew this going in, so when my mom in tears voiced her concern, I hugged her and told her it will all be okay and I will rise above.

I will always rise above.

So even though many people don’t understand how this year has been brutal to my identity and have been too busy with their own lives to clue into the reality of our nation, I will always be here to educate them on what actually is happening with the queer community. I will take it with as much grace and patience as I can. I will walk away and come back refreshed when needed. I will research more to help them understand. I will sleep on it and then come back with answers. I will create visuals, words, essays, to help them see what’s fact… and what is, well, alternate facts.

Why don’t I just ignore it all? Why don’t I “let it go?” Why don’t I “just live and stop pushing my beliefs on everyone else?” Why don’t I just support our nation’s leaders? Why don’t I just show more grace?

Because the moment I do, I might as well stop living all together. I am a person. I am a woman. I am a gay woman. And until people don’t feel shook to say the word “gay” out loud in any venue; until “gay” isn’t an insult; and until I can have the rights that straight couples have, I will not be silenced. I will fight harder, louder, and with more passion than I’ve expressed yet. I am unshakable. I am loud.

I am an educator.

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My catch makes me a good one

Someone recently asked me what my catch was. They had thought I would be scooped up by now from what they know of me. My answer?

“I don’t think there is a catch.”

I asked a few friends and they all shook their heads in thought and said something to the effect of “well… you work a lot.” Their voices raised in question at the end of that statement.

One friend joked that “well…you ARE crazy.” Then laughed, patting me on the shoulder.

Those are both true, but I define my kind of crazy as being passionate and driven in something a person puts time and energy in. For example, I’m crazy about my journalism program at North. I’m crazy about Taylor Swift. I’m crazy about teens and their infinite potential. And if you pay any attention to me on any platform, that shouldn’t be a shock.

So after washing this through the many filters of my brain, I decided those weren’t catches. Being passionate and driven in your career should be an asset to a relationship, and to a person in general. It shouldn’t be something to block out goodness or create stress. It shouldn’t stop someone from loving me. It shows commitment to something, it shows success. And in my profession, teaching, it shows unconditional love for young people who need someone who’s crazy about them.

So when someone who is becoming more and more important to me asked in awe what my catch was, and my friends determined it was my work ethic and being a little crazy, I had to disagree.

I disagree, wholeheartedly.

My heart is full in the sense of all the kids who live there and continue to move in. My job is what I’m passionate about, in most definitions of the word passionate. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have room for someone special. It doesn’t mean I can’t be crazy about them as well. It doesn’t mean I can’t have more priorities. It doesn’t mean I’m unlovable. It means quite the opposite.

There’s no catch. But can I twist those words and say that I’m a catch? Because without being too modest, I am. Call me crazy!

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Gay means happy, and other synonyms people don’t talk about

LGBT Jenn

By Jennifer Dryden
Written: March 6, 2016

I can remember sitting in the audience at dance dress rehearsals watching girls dance on the stage in full makeup, tights and sparkles. I remember being in full makeup, tights and sparkles myself waiting for my class’s number to be called to go line up backstage. It was all such a rush at four, five, six up to 15 years old. When I reached adolescence, my mom and I started calling this week “Hell Week” because juggling rehearsals and school was hell. Probably literally for her.

But I remember always being excited for this one girl’s routine and it was because she was beautiful, and she was so good at dancing, front and center every time. I remember watching all the routines and cheering with whoops and hollers because innocently I loved dance class. And I lived for the recitals because we all were a big dancing family. My dance class became my friend group in my single digit years and as I grew up and away from many of those same girls in school, we would always stay on pretty even ground because of our childhood dancing together.

I never thought I was gay because I admired the girl on the front and center mark in the dance routine, nor did I think the fact that I always singled her and a couple other girls out was an sign of being gay. I figured I just admired them, I wanted to be like them; I wanted to be their friend. But looking back, these were some of my first crushes.

Innocent crushes like the ones you’d laugh at about your son and the little girl next door who ride bikes together after school. “They’ll get married some day,” parents like to say over a glass of probably well-deserved wine on a playdate.

I remember the heat in my chest and the giggles I’d let slip when she did an even more amazing job than before. I remember my smile, how wide it was. I remember running into her backstage or seeing her in the audience. I remember taking a picture with her and then keeping it in a safe place, showing all my friends my new friend I met at my dance recital. “Look, she’s my friend!”

Why wasn’t this a sign I was gay? And if I felt this way, why didn’t I come out early on?

Because in the 90s, I didn’t know what gay was. I didn’t know it was a thing. I didn’t know people could like the same gender, nobody talked about it. And certainly it wasn’t talked about in health or relationships class because we were a small, hugely Catholic community. Public school or not, it wasn’t something anyone talked about and thus, I didn’t know what it was until high school and a classmate came out as gay. By then I was committed to a boyfriend. That was enough evidence to prove I wasn’t gay because “I’m dating a guy”.

I said that to myself a lot.

I remember the Disney Channel movie “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century”. Zenon was my first celebrity crush. And it was a deep crush: her florescent clothes, her hair, her fierceness to be herself, the way her voice sounded. I mean she was definition of hot major. I remember singing, “zoom zoom zoom, make my heart go boom boom, my supernova girl!” about her. But I didn’t think anything of it because, again, I was too young to know what gay was.

The only thing I knew about the word gay was a lyric in a Christmas song and when I asked, like every other kid, what gay meant, my parents said, “It means happy”. Cool. Alright, gay means happy. Got it.

Even though adults knew damn well “gay” had other synonyms, they weren’t shared with me. Kids back then were sheltered to this, and maybe you can make an argument that kids these days need to be more sheltered from the horrible Internet or technology, but if someone would have explained to me “gay also means liking the same gender” maybe I would have been able to ask questions. Or, maybe I would have said, “Okay!” giggled and ran off to play again. I mean, kids are kids… but I was a thoughtful kid. I wish I would have had an opportunity to ask questions.

I never put two and two together about Zenon Carr, AKA Kirsten Storms, until I watched it recently, and I found myself still in awe of her, and I flashed back as a preteen crushing on her. I remembered my heart doing the same flip it did back at dance recitals – it burned and I smiled and giggled a little too much when Zenon put on a new outfit or sang, “Zoom zoom zoom…” I remembered thinking how lucky those pop stars were in the movie to get to dance with her, yet probably every other girl was crushing on Proto Zoa.

I was gay then.

It baffles me still. Even as a 28-year-old adult – who is still trying to learn how to exactly adult – I find myself aware of times in my past I could have spotted my gay. But again, I didn’t know what gay was for a long time. And as an adult who came out a lot later than she should have, it makes me mad. Kids aren’t dumb, and thankfully nowadays, especially in urban communities, “gay” is a buzzword and there’s a community for support and encouragement. There are Gay-Straight Alliances in schools as early as middle school to help kids know what being gay is and that being gay is okay. I advise North’s GSA and the kids are stronger and more comfortable than I ever have been in my gay. They give me excitement for being gay. And that’s pretty important for society as a whole.

Eventually, I knew that gay didn’t only mean happy because I was older and aware, and because a couple friends came out.

I remember when a good friend told me she needed to tell me something after a daycare training on Universal Precautions. She sat in my car and looked nervous, then said, “Jenn, I’m gay.” I had no idea she was gay, and now it makes me laugh because shoot, I could spot a lesbian from across a room these days. But back then my “gaydar” was blind, even on myself. I was dating a guy for well over a year and she just came out to me, just like that. I was mad at myself for not knowing, and she laughed and said it was okay, but also joked “how didn’t you know?” because apparently “it is so obvious”. When she came out to me, I questioned myself immediately. Then quickly repeated “I’m dating a guy” in my head, repealing the thought.

She told me about this girl she was dating and how it wasn’t going great and I pictured them together, holding hands, being gay. I asked about her highly Catholic family and their reactions. I asked questions and we became closer. She confided in me something that not many people talked about in our community. Looking back, that was when she became a safe zone for me asking questions about my own sexuality later on.

I remember texting her about crushing on one of my girl friends. “So I think I might be gay…” and then I would wait for a reply in blush, and my heart would beat fast and I’d start sweating because whoosh, I just threw it out there like that… What if my friends saw this text? She replied with “Why do you think that?” and I told her the truth. “I kind of really want to just kiss her. Like when she talks to me I just look at her lips and I want to kiss her. I picture myself walking up to her and just kissing her.”

I was gay then too. Super gay because it took real patience to be her friend and to hold such a secret at the same time. We’re actually really good friends now and hilariously, I bet all of my girl friends are wondering if it’s them, which is pretty funny to me right now. I don’t know if I’ll ever tell her. Meh, maybe.

But the thing with that is I’ve crushed on a few friends. And never acted on them because we were friends and just… no. They were clearly straight and as I’ve found out, one doesn’t just have a fling with a straight girl. It’s a whole wad of crazy waiting to blow up in your face and shatter your heart. And plus, they were all too important to me to bring something up that I knew wouldn’t happen and might hinder our friendship. Their friendship mattered more.

These were adult crushes, like post-college crushes. I knew that I was at least bi by then. And being bi was a comfort zone that let me like girls and yet not commit to being gay. Still, no one knew. I started to come out to close friends as bi. Even my mom. And I’m ashamed because I should have been more honest with myself from the get-go and came out as gay, but I was testing the waters with people I could not imagine leaving me. These were essential people; those people you wouldn’t be yourself without.

Then I met Her.

And we kissed. And we were a type of thing for a while. And after meeting Her, I started calling everyone to come out as gay. “I’m gay,” I remember saying out loud on the ride home from meeting Her out of nowhere. I hadn’t said it out loud yet. I was 27.

Let that sink in. Twenty-seven. I’d been living in the dark either from not knowing what gay was or from my nerves in labeling myself for a long time.

Even though she wasn’t “the one”, she was a type of one. She was the girl I came out for. And she doesn’t even know this. Even though we aren’t a couple and things didn’t work out, she played a vital role in my life. She was the girl that convinced me I was gay and in no way bi. She was the one I had the guts for, to start telling my friends, family and coworkers. She helped me become more of myself. And I think that has something to do with how important she remains to me today. She probably doesn’t know that either…

I had been praying for a long time, months, for a sign to declare myself gay or not. (And in hindsight, if I was doing that, I was pretty gay.) I remember every night before I’d go to bed, I’d pray these words, “God, I know you love me because you made me, so please please lead me to someone who will make me know for sure. I think I’m gay, but I’m scared. Just give me a sign.” I met Her and knew. She was my sign.

I was gay then. Not bi. Not hiding. Not questioning. I was gay.

I am gay.

So I just stopped being not gay. I stopped caring if I slipped a ‘she’ pronoun when talking about a date or someone I liked. I stopped caring about what people thought of me. I stopped using the non-gendered pronoun “they” with my students, coworkers, friends of friends, etc. I am gay, and more myself than any other time in my life.

I don’t whisper the word gay when I need to use it, I am honest with my students about their questions, and support GSA because I wish I had something like that when I was in high school. I wish I had a safe adult I could have turned to and asked questions. I wish I had a nonjudgmental place to go as a preteen or teen. I wish I had a community to be safe in. I wish I had known what gay was. I really wish that last one.

So, I am gay. I was gay at those dance recitals. I was gay backstage when taking a picture with the dancer. I was gay while watching a 90s Disney Channel movie and declaring Zenon Carr my supernova girl. I was gay in college and in New York. I was gay during text conversations, trying to figure out my sexuality. I was gay when I told people I was bi. I was gay while praying. I was gay when I met Her, the one who confirmed it all. I’ve always been gay.

And ya know, my mom was right. Gay does mean happy because I’ve never before felt freer, more myself or happier. But gay does mean liking the same gender too, and I hope you’re not afraid to tell the kids in your life that, if they ever ask you. It’s honest, and sometimes being honest allows people to be more of themselves.

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Big city therapy

chicago 1The city has always been a place of refuge for me. When things get tight in my chest and my fists ball up, I know the only cure is to drive to the nearest city, climb to the roof of the highest skyscraper, and release. I release through deep breaths and simply looking. The eyes are the gateway to our hearts, or so I’ve learned, and my eyes are in love with building after building mashed together to create a chaos filled with possibilities and diversity.

Down on the sidewalks, I’m among strangers who don’t care who I am, they don’t want to talk to me, they don’t want anything from me. Some look like me, some don’t. Some love like me, some don’t and most don’t mind. Some I can understand, some I cannot. It’s the only time in my life I don’t have to worry what my face looks like and what emotions display there. It’s a place I can be completely, 100 percent me. The city lets me live in oblivion. I exist only to myself and the people I choose to acknowledge.

I can crane my neck until it can’t go back any farther and turn in a circle and still not see everything. It’s the journey that brings me lessons about myself I never knew. As I’m are curious, I make memories, I discover a different part of myself. The stars only exist atop roofs high in the sky and yet the city streets hold so much magic. I’m in love with its vastness and its ability to be chaotic in such an organized way.

Standing among skyscrapers is the only time I like to feel inferior. My superiority complex goes away and I become human again. I’m not worried about traffic, or being first or the best. I’m not thinking about next week or tomorrow. I’m just present. That’s important to be a well-rounded person, I think. It’s a reminder that even though you move mountains at your job and your influence changes lives with kids, you are still just another piece to this world we all live in. You simply exist.

A city doesn’t care about any of this; the city doesn’t care that it’s my therapy. It’s concrete, brick, cobblestone pathways, and glass windows overlooking millions of people. It’s rooftops with water towers, and it’s bike paths next to a lake. It’s parks surrounded by buildings and clock towers. It’s food trucks outside corporations and your favorite breakfast joint that only seats 20, and reminds you of home. It’s the doorman who greets you the same way each day. It’s the subway and bus systems that allow you to touch every part of the city. It’s chaotic consistency and it’s what my heart loves.

So when I step foot in Chicago next week, I will make sure to simply exist. I will let myself feel inferior. I will stand and look, take it all in. Soak up enough city love to bring back with me to a smaller city. I’ll allow it to mold me into whomever I am supposed to be there.

chicago 2 roof

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If money wasn’t a factor, I’d change the book industry

If money wasn’t a life requirement in this world, I would set a path that stretches myself into dreams I know I’m way capable of just by the fact that I’m driven. My inspiration? Teens.

If you have drive you can accomplish anything and if you have confidence in your skills, you will accomplish anything. If money wasn’t a factor, I’d live in New York or LA and work at a book publishing company. I’d commit my life to work and building myself into a successful, ethical and wonderful businesswoman who raises the ceilings on a company that fits my passion and vision. I’d work with a team who trusts and looks to me for what passionate work looks like. I’d teach them by example just like I do at school with my journalism students; I’d show them that success is teamwork and to be a solid team you need to form a type of family. Yet not a family that takes away from time with their real one. I’d respect their vision for their own personal lives and understand when kids are sick and when a second honeymoon is required. My expectations would be high, undoubtedly, but my appreciation for them would exceed everything.

If money wasn’t a factor, I’d publish all the books that move me or my team, and those that would move the teens who struggle each day to simply survive mentally. I’d find perfect strategies to bring books to teens in an affordable way and listen to the teens for their responses. Why don’t book publishers reach out to teens for young adult literature? And if they do, why not publicly, so we know who really approves of the book? Why not send ARCs to teens and have them write reviews?

Well, because an author gets more books sold just by putting famous authors’ one-sentence reviews on the covers. I bet more teens would read if they saw an average Joe or Jane on the cover revealing their love and emotional connection with the characters and plot. Why aren’t they talking to teens? Even though they aren’t the greatest at making life decisions yet, they know what they like and deep down, they know what they need – mostly consistent love and human connection. Bring those characters off the shelves, show them to them face-to-face, connection-to-connection.

Young adult literature is all I read because for me as an adult, it’s an escape from adulthood, from the bills (again money-based), from work stress, and relationship decisions. Teens live in a dramatic world, trust me, but they’re dynamic, always changing, always growing and seeking connection. Yet they are the most ignored and judged demographic. Give them the benefit of the doubt. I highly doubt a 15-year-old looking for a book to relate to his father-in-jail situation really cares that XYZ famous author rates this book five stars and says “It’s better than his competitors”. That 15-year-old young man is looking for help, release, and relationships with people, fictional or not. He needs that. Why isn’t that the purpose of publishing? Why isn’t it to bring worlds to readers no matter how much they cost? Why do budgets at various sized publishing houses dictate what art the world reads?

This is all an ideology, I’m fully aware, but this stems back to my original point, money dictates everything whether it be a budget or the impression from someone famous (someone who has money), and the world wonders why people are hostile, hateful, and judgmental in business or otherwise.

What would you do if money wasn’t a factor?

I’d bring more books teens need in their life to the forefront and work hard to lead a team who feels the same way. We’d work hard for the funding and for the kids and for the oftentimes unbearableness of being a teen. People should be embracing this audience, not assuming publishers know what’s best based off of numbers and what Nicholas Sparks says about an author. Ask the kids, trust the kids, invest in them… and I’ll bet anything that more kids will read and have a better outlook on their situations. When someone fights for kids’ best interests, they commit to success so much easier, more consistently, and with more passion. They turn into confident leaders with drive.

Give me that job.

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