Friday, March 28, 2014

Girls Like Me

There was never a time when I wasn't aware of my identity as Other. Homeschooler, Christian, artist. Fan of punk, hardcore, and Celtic folk. Too much or not enough to fit into convenient lables.

Senior portrait, featuring men's khakis, kid's shirt & paint

It wasn't until my late 20s that my baby sister showed me everyone feels this way. She's 11 years younger and doesn't remember when I wore combat boots and fishnets to school or how I struggled to find a place between my fellow art students and the students who shared my faith. What she remembers is that I graduated college and that I'm happily married and that I live in Los Angeles.

Normal behavior when hanging unsupervised in a boy's room. Right?

But when she looked at me and said "You're so normal" I nearly burst out laughing.

Me? Normal? NEVER.

And thus I discovered an almost universal truth: we all feel like outsiders.

Yet despite that, I saw very few girls like me in books, movies, or even real life. The girls I read about were either popular or wanted to be popular. I embraced my outsider status, deliberately upping my weird factor for effect. I didn't see many grown women like me either. They all seemed to have some secret knowledge that let them fit into the molds society built for them. I wanted more. I wanted permission to grow up to be weird (and mad props to my parents for being okay with that).

(I say girls because to date, all my POV characters save one have been girls, but all this applies to boys too.) 

14th birthday hijinks. I'm hiding behind Big Foot.

This is where I came to love fantasy. Be it Lucy Pevensie or Meg Murry or Alanna of Trebond, I found girls who resonated with me. Still, no matter how much I loved their bravery, intelligence, and strength, their experiences and their worlds were so far outside of my own. I still didn't see a road map for how to live my ordinary life.

There is power in reading something that reminds us that, outsiders or not, we are not alone. When we see characters who validate our experiences, it sends a message that we're okay. So when I began writing with the aim of publication, I knew I wanted to write about girls like me

Girls who dye their hair black or pink or purple. Girls who wear Chuck Taylor's and leather jackets. Girls who aren't afraid of a mosh pit. Or even if they are, rush the stage anyway because when you feel the bass in your bones, it doesn't matter if you get kicked in the shin or take an elbow to the face because it hurts so good. Girls who are totally unathletic or rock at sports and feel like a freak either way. Girls whose bodies are beautiful even though they don't fit societal expectations. Girls who read the dictionary and quote Joss Weadon or Nietzsche or G. K. Chesterton. Girls who wear contacts so no one knows they need glasses and girls who wear fake glasses because they like the look. Girls with deep faith and deep doubts and deep friendships. Girls who know they're misfits and choose to celebrate the things that make them unique. Girls who love and hate and feel everything.

Graduation day with my pet freshman

I wrote Bria in THE ART OF FALLING almost as a love letter to those girls, hoping to celebrate the things that make them so special. I wrote her so that maybe another girl would feel less alone. I wrote her so that girls like me could see that I grew up to be me and that's awesome. Three months after publication, not everyone loves Bria. But that's okay. I didn't write her for everyone. I wrote her for everyone who feels like an outsider.

Maybe my kids will grow up to feel like they fit in. Maybe they'll be popular and traditionally attractive and good at all the things they're supposed to be good at. It seems unlikely as I watch my son twirl in a tutu and my daughter body surf down the hills in the park, and, honestly, I think I'd be a little disappointed if they did. I want my kids to grow up confident enough to embrace their weirdness and celebrate the things that make them uniquely who they are.

To that end, I will keep writing about girls like me. Not everyone will like my heroines. Not everyone will relate to their struggles or understand their choices. But I don't write to make people like me. I write to be honest and to tell stories I think need to be told. And hopefully give my readers the courage to be themselves.

So cheers to all the other outsiders. To the girls like me. May your freak flags wave forever proud.


  1. I really love this post. Representation is so important on so many levels! Also, I feel like we would've gotten along *great* in high school aka we would've shared a lot of ironic t-shirts and mens thrift store pants.

    1. Heehee. We totally would have! I loved thrifting with my friends!

    2. Um, knowing both of you... the answer is YES. You both would have gotten along famously! Love this post, love you both!

  2. So love for this post. That's exactly what I love about Bria, I know her and was her in my own way. I write "weird" and unique and FUN girls for the same reason!

  3. As a homeschooled, Christian girl, who doesn't fit in well with the (mostly) super conservative homeschoolers around her, I'm so thankful for this post. The few IRL friends (mostly boys from church) that really understand me are the ones who, like me, embrace the weirdness. May the weirdos live forever! ;)

    PS - I also love Celtic things. :)