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The Hollowness and Holiness of Silence

I should be grading or planning or doing any of the other 23 things on my to-do list, but instead I’m contemplating, and my mind is a frenzied cacophony of questions and thoughts, so I thought I’d write my way to silence. This morning, I woke up at my usual time, and it felt strange not climbing out of bed to get ready for school and my students. I felt out of sorts, so I read.  

One was a book I thought I had finished, but I was wrong. The other was an ARC that I brought home to read over Winter Break along with 11 others, but I never managed to make it to the bottom of that particular pile. The unfinished book was It’s Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender. I went back two or three chapters from where I left off to refresh my memory and immediately realized why the book went unfinished. The protagonist, Bird, was a never ending bag of self-sabotage. Sabotaging himself by thinking he wasn’t good enough. Sabotaging relationships by questioning every action, every shared thought, every uttered word. Everything in his orbit was put in a food processor and by the time the blades of his brain finished doing their worst all good intentions were gone—love crushed. He was exhausting. I wanted to shake him and say, “You’ve constructed this narrative. It isn’t real. It’s the swirl of your brain believing the worst possible outcome. Pushing people away. Shutting people out. Aren’t you tired of you?” I realize my response seems to lack any semblance of empathy, but when does assuaging the results of someone else’s behavior or misrepresentations start to hurt you? Bird hurt the people in his life over and over again. He walked away from them. He shut them out. He shut them down. He forced them to live with his silence. Silence is many things. It can be both beautiful and terrible. At its most terrible it kills. Should they really have kept taking him back? I’m not without empathy, but I’m also not without limits. When you start to break from being dragged across the shards of someone else’s insecurities, what’s the answer? For a time, Bird was left without his friends, and because he’s the protagonist that’s the story we follow—his isolation. But the reader shouldn’t forget, it was self imposed and Bird wasn’t the only one left to suffer the consequences of his irrational and impulsive responses to the fear of losing the people he loves. I don’t know. I’m seesawing. All through the novel, Bird kept thinking other people had changed. That things had changed. What he didn’t realize until the very end was that he was the one that had changed things. He didn’t seem to understand Newton’s Third Law—life is science. Talk about a lack of self-awareness. He wrote his way to realization. He wrote his way to resolution. I can respect that, and in the end, I respected him. I bet you can’t tell that I enjoyed this book. I really did. It was flawed by the presence of an almost poorly done manic pixie dream girl, she was eventually revealed to have goals outside of constantly changing the color of her hair and decorating Bird’s cast, so that’s a win. It also features parents I could never really support. Parents who used their children as security blankets and weaponized parental privilege. Even with those flaws, this book had quite a few wins. The biggest win was the normalized representation of the fluidity of sexuality. And it’s all done without labels. There is nothing wrong with labels, specifically people labeling themselves, but there is also nothing wrong with not labeling. We’ve arrived at the beautiful silence. The cacophony quieted, but the to do list remains. What’s a girl to do? The answer is watch Netflix.  

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