I just finished reading John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars” at the recommendation of Jeremy, whom I refer to as my cousin because we share the same last name. And it’s not a common last name.

Jeremy is using this book as part of his high school English curriculum and it’s a sharp deviation from the books I was told to read during my four years of high school, such as:

“Night,” Elie Wiesel

“Native Son,” Richard Wright

“The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams

“A Farewell To Arms,” Ernest Hemingway

… to name a few.

Though I cried and cried when Catherine died in “A Farewell to Arms,” it wasn’t a novel I clamored to read again. Nor were the “classics” that were listed on our syllabus each semester.

I can think of one book from all of the assigned high school English classes that I absolutely loved.

Not J.D. Salinger’s “A Catcher in the Rye.” Not Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” – though both had the intrigue and life lessons.

It was “A Separate Peace,” by John Knowles.

Because there were elements I could relate to.

Friendship, loss, going through the same experience together, growing apart, growing up. Rivalries – at one point Phineas and Gene became frenemies, which changes the course of their friendships – and their lives.

John Knowles told the plight of the teenager, even though it was 1942.  It was more relatable than going down the Mississippi River on a raft or punishing a woman for committing adultery.

Anyhow, it got me to thinking: we need to incorporate more YA fiction into the educational curriculum … because this is what students relate to. There was a really good piece in last week’s editions Washington Post about the graphic novel as an educational tool and the author’s premise came down to this: don’t rule out a book just because it’s not of “the norm.”

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As you probably know, I’m very anti-bullying and very pro-empathy. Sometimes I’m a little too empathetic.

Given what we know about the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation with the Miami Dolphins, it proves that bullying never stops, and people don’t grow out of bullying. It’s not just a meanness thing, it’s an insecurity thing.

It’s a power thing, too  – a person is so certain of his or her own self-importance, yet has no self worth, or are threatened, and gain a false sense of entitlement by belittling someone else.

A colleague of mine groaned and made a comment about the “wussification” of America, and I thought, well, how would you feel if someone belittled you every day?

Heck, at my last workplace, I had a bully, and I was hesitant to stand up to the bully for fear of “upsetting the apple cart.” Finally, a male coworker recently told me, “I’d never have let it get to that point.” And at that point, I felt as if I’d been granted permission to stand up to workplace bullies. Not that I haven’t stood up to people before, but I finally had a coworker put himself in my shoes.

Among the things I’ve taken from the Incognito-Martin feud: Male bullying is overt, while female bullying is covert.

Girls wouldn’t tell another girl that they’d shit in their mouth. They’d tell them their lipstick made them look too pale. Or they wouldn’t invite them out, when they’d invited everyone else out. Or that the story they worked on wasn’t worthy of being run on A1, despite all the hard work that was put into it. That’s something the bully at my last workplace did.

I’ve forgiven her for being such a horrible coworker and for behaving horribly towards me, and I know I didn’t do anything to provoke her. Sometimes I wish I would have just cornered her and asked her what her problem was with me. But there’s one thing I think of when someone brings her up to me. (I won’t name the woman who bullied me in the workplace. She knows who she is. That’s on her conscience.)

Charlie Batch, a former NFL quarterback, recently posted this on his Facebook page. There’s truth in this statement from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And that’s the problem with bullies. They likely never consider how someone else feels. Their only concern is for their own feelings.

 

I’m so conditioned to being in this city, I almost wanted to put a dateline on this post.  But each time I come here – and I’m here a lot for work – I always think about one of my friends from college, who went to school here and who lives in the area with her family, and who likely works here.

Steph went through a rough go of it in college, and dropped out after three semesters because of health and emotional issues. I don’t know if it was the culture shock of moving to the United States from Canada, of being surrounded by seemingly liberal women after growing up in a religiously conservative household and having to straddle two worlds, of having to leave everything she knew behind including her boyfriend, her best friends, her college scholarship and her life behind to uproot with her family … I remember going to visit her when she was hospitalized and I gave her a copy of one of my favorite books. I wonder if she still has that tattered copy.

And I remember seeing her again in Colorado about 10 years ago, right before Christmas. It was the best three hours of that winter, sitting at the Cheesecake Factory and telling old stories and looking through photos of our lives. At one point, she made me stop as I flipped through an album.

“Is that graduation?” she asked. It was. I wondered how Steph felt when she saw that.

I remember that when we hugged in the middle of downtown Denver and parted, a Christmas carol covered by Christina Aguilera was playing on a nearby sound system. I can’t listen to that CD without thinking of Steph.

In the 18 months I’ve lived here, Steph hasn’t returned any of my emails or phone calls – so I’ve gotten the point. Set ’em free, right?

When I’m in Ann Arbor for work, sometimes I’ll be sitting at Starbucks or at lunch and I’ll look out the window, wondering if I’ll see Steph pass by.  And I wonder if I would get up from my seat and chase her down. I wonder if it would be worth it.

I hate running. Absolutely hate it. But I’ve been jogging since June – I think I just woke up one day and said, “hey, I think I’ll start jogging” – and when a college classmate of mine suggested I join her for a women’s 5K, I thought about it for a day.

And then I registered.

At 7:30 Saturday morning, I got in my car and drove to the site of the 5K. I was more anxious about the time leading up to the race then I was about the race. I wasn’t used to all the waiting. Usually, I just walk a block and start jogging, on my terms.

Finally, I started jogging.

OK, this feels fine, this feels OK. Have I run a mile yet?

At one point, people handed me cups of water. I sipped. Dropped the cup on the ground. Kept jogging. Wondered if I had run a mile yet – because I have no faith in the measurement function on the Nike iPod fitness app. Then I saw a yellow sign. And my husband, waving to me.

That’s a mile? Are you sure? 

I kept jogging, wondering when that two-mile mark was. And I was a little dismayed by the lack of roads that were blocked off. At one point there was this massive tanker/18-wheeler pulling out of a parking lot and I screamed at it, “Come on, there’s a 5K going on here!”

I’m sure the driver was real concerned about all these women jogging by.

But I started to get tired around the 2-mile mark, yet I didn’t stop and walk. I slowed down. And when I came around a corner with less than a mile left, I thought, well, damn, if I’ve come this far, I might as well just jog to the end.

And I did it. My goal at the start was just to finish. Then I thought, if I can finish this in under 45 minutes, I’ll be OK.

I finished in 36 minutes, 10 seconds. I think I’ll run another one soon.

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My house for two is starting to look like Grand Central Station.

In the course of 24 hours it has accommodated two adults, three senior citizens and two dogs, and I’m trying to thwart whatever builds in me when I have to give away the time I use in the morning to get ready for work – one of the few hours of time I have to myself.

Part of the reason the house better represents a bustling train station is because of mental health. Not mine. Not anyone in the house. But it’s a factor that has affected my extended family for years.

I’ve only divulged to two people the root of the hustle and bustle in my house but it brings up a bigger issue: Mental health.

It’s something that we’ve been reluctant to discuss in our society, up until recently. A microcosm: In the final months of my time covering pro and college hockey in New England, three NHL players committed suicide, in part due to mental health issues. While the NHL Players Association offers “a substance abuse and behaviorial health” program, it wasn’t until the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak that a community (and hockey is a community) was forced not only to acknowledge the issue but to consider it frankly and introspectively. Three men died in the course of a summer. At the time, I posted something on my belated work blog that said something along the lines of, “maybe this will force us to evaluate both the topic of mental health and our own attitudes toward a topic that comes with a stigma.”

I even reconsidered my own stance on mental health – bipolar disorder runs in my family (hey, you wonder why I’m so upbeat all the time – kidding, kidding). You grow up understanding that something is not right, why a parent and a grandparent rarely speak – a byproduct of a violent attack years and years ago that was brought on by a manic-depressive rage – or why a sibling is taking medication and forever going to doctors and isn’t taking the same honors and advanced placement classes that you overachieved in “because he doesn’t have the same direction that you have.”

But you don’t talk about it with others, in a public sense. Still, after finding out from a former supervisor of mine about his family’s struggles with mental health issues, and discussing it with the parent of a friend of mine in a stretch of weeks, I realized something: A) this isn’t an isolated problem and B) there are people out there who need to talk about this with someone. Sometimes, you are the best support group because you listened.

Right now, I have a whole household whom I can listen to – because I know they are in a safe place.

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If you’re looking for more information on mental health awareness or resources, there’s a program in Canada called Mindcheck.ca that’s geared towards teenagers and young adults with mental health issues, and the Virginia-based National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a broader view on advocacy, treatment and research.

Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).