All posts by lizmcgehee

Genre-Bending Women

I could write about this all day, but here is a shortlist of female writers that have influenced me through their individual contemporary/hybrid styles:

1. Maggie Nelson

A mixture of poetry, essay, philosophy, and memoir, Bluets blows both form and genre out of the water.

2. Lidia Yuknavitck

The first book I ever read by Yuknacitch was her memoir, The Chronology of Water, which remains one of my favorite books to date. Her use of language is so precise, so powerful, so poetic, yet perfectly bare-boned and vulnerable. Her latest novel, The Book of Joan, is a modern reimagining of Joan of Arc that takes place on space station. Again, the language is incredible and completely unexpected for dystopian, sci-fi.

3. Roxane Gay

Gay blew up in 2014 with the release of Bad Feminist, a collection of essays that redefine what it means to be a modern feminist. But long before this, her debut came with a collection of 15 stories called Ayiti, “a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.” Her novel An Untamed State, was released the same year as Bad Feminist. Gay also posts actively on tumblr with thoughts on life, recipes, and more.

4. Claudia Rankine

When Rankine’s lyrical memoir, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, was released in 2004, she completely changed both poetry and CNF. Similarly, her book Citizen pushed this line of hybridity further when it was nominated for the National Book Award in poetry. Some argued that it was a collection of essays, while others saw it as poetic. Still others see it as both, and I am inclined to agree with them.

5. Anne Carson

If you haven’t read The Glass Essay, you need to get on that right now. Carson manages to meld poetry and the personal essay perfectly in this piece as well as The Autobiography of Red. Her poetry is typically prose heavy to begin with and extremely enjoyable to writers of different genres.

6. Carmen Giménez Smith

Crisp autobiographical poetry and a must-read.

7. Octavia Butler

Badass sci-fi daring to go where no one has gone before. “[Butler] defied formulaic sci-fi while exploiting the freedom of the genre to take her usually female and nonwhite characters to places where mainstream fiction would ten to deny them.”—Commonweal

8. Eula Biss

Please read The Pain Scale if you haven’t. She also has a myriad of essay collections that skillfully tackle hard-hitting topics.

9. Lorrie Moore

“Oh, the precarious position of fiction in our world: that over the last several decades the novel has continually been declared dead, and the short story is in constant resurrection, which means half-dead or post-dead or heaven-bound. But one continues writing anyway—as has been said by many—because one must.”—Lorrie Morre

10. Ruth Ellen Kocher

I had the pleasure of studying under this incredible poet whose hybrid work is constantly changing the game. domina Un/blued is a personal favorite.

11. Vanessa Angelica Villerreal

Beast Meridian is one of the most beautiful collections of poems I’ve read in a long time. It includes family photos, potent imagery, and wounding personal experiences to show the erasure and illegalization of Mexican-American bodies in today’s society.

12. Jennifer Tamayo

You Da One is highly experimental and uses pop culture references to explore the wound of American assimilation.

Advertisements

Prompt of the Day: Poetry

You may or may not be familiar with erasure poetry, but it’s essentially exactly what it sounds like. Taking pre-existing work, you mark out chunks of text to create a new poem. This process can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing writer’s block.

Ruefle-Mary-page1Mary Ruefle has a famous 42-page-erasure poem called A Little White Shadow that she created from Emily Malone Morgan’s Brown & Gross (1889). I believe I read an interview somewhere in which Ruefle claimed one of the main reasons she chose this text is because there are no copyright issues from a text this ancient. So bear that in mind before you spend too much time on this.

A former professor of mine, Ruth Ellen Kocher, took a different approach to erasure in her book domina Un/blued. While in Rome, she wrote tons of poems and later went back and erasured her own work. The results are absolutely breathtaking.

Many poets erasure their own work in the editing process without thinking of it as such. And many poets have difficulty letting words go. But this process is all about whittling down to the most precise language. You’d be surprised what can come out of that.

Rules:

  • take a text you’ve either written or a text that you love and mark out chunks to create your own poem

Here’s my attempt:

Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So:

Taken By Frost

a yellow traveller
bent in the undergrowth
and wanted
that morning
I kept knowing
I should never come back

 

Prompt of the Day: Flash Fiction/Poetry

Laura Theobald is one of the many writers incorporating modern technology into their work. Using iOS predictive text, Theobald wrote an entire collection of poems titled THE BEST THING EVER. You too can create an interesting story or prose poem through predictive text. You’ll also get a glimpse into your psyche when you see which words you use most frequently.

Rules:

  • 20-25 words minimum
  • start with “I died”
  • if predictive text repeats the same word(s) too often, hit a random letter for more vocabulary options

 

Here’s my attempt (I can’t stop laughing):

 

BYE Y’ALL

I died in the past, and it is literally just one of my favorite places. Yeah, that’s what I’m going through. Right after lunch, I’ll be a feeling. Like this, but so far away. I’m going home now. I’ll let y’all be good. I’ll talk tomorrow night. And love with him has no chance. I died in a good mood I guess. I died in the way you told me. I died in the world. Just let me remember that.

 

Why New Orleans Still Makes the Perfect Dystopian Setting

Plenty of people have written about the use of New Orleans as a dystopian setting over the last decade, which hits a little too close to home—literally. Yet, I cannot deny that my city does in fact make the perfect backdrop for political commentary. In the context of Hurricane Katrina, this statement makes sense, but does it still hold up?

From a local perspective, I would argue that it does for the following reasons:

1. Unwavering Weather Deathtraps

It’s hard to believe that a little over 12 years ago, Hurricane Katrina left 80% of the city flooded, at least 1,833 dead, and hundreds of thousands homeless—myself included.

While this event destroyed my 15-year-old world, it captivated the rest of the country through the national news circuit as the ultimate disaster porn for months, maybe even years.

The question on everyone’s mind—How could this level of devastation occur in 2005 in one of the most powerful countries in the world?

The images, more reminiscent of a third world country than that of a modern US city, forever shook the country’s self-view. People waiting on their roofs for days with rescue signs, houses upon houses filled with water, stragglers swimming in what was once a street, security footage of looters, the cajun navy out in their personal boats, the 27-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Bridge in ruins, my childhood theme park (Six Flags New Orleans, formerly named Jazzland) becoming a lake instead of just having one.

6flags.jpg
Photo Credit: PBS.org

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dissociate myself from these images the way the rest of the country did. I distinctly remember the people around me as well as the anchors on TV referring to us IDP’s (Internally Displaced People) as “refugees”—people who by definition have been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

This semantic discrepancy spoke volumes and reflected the cognitive dissonance between what people were witnessing on television and what they believed possible in their own country.

The use of “refugee” framed the black bodies appearing on millions of white American screens as foreign. The media also fanned fears of looting and crime through exaggeration, bias, and racial stereotypes: Whites borrowed for survival, while blacks doing the same thing stole. But I digress.

Between August 29 and September 17, directly after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, “dystopia” spiked worldwide on Google trends. If you look at this search trend between January 2004 all the way through September 2017, there is no other spike of this magnitude. In fact, when you look at this graph, dystopian YA is just beginning to surpass that spike in terms of popularity. That almost feels wrong, given the wave of Hunger Games, Maze Runners, and Divergents dominating publishing and film.

spike

But if a world-ending event were to occur in America, people already picture it in our backyard thanks to Katrina, the Louisiana Floods of 2016, and even the occasional two-hour thunderstorms.

2hurricanes
What in the actual F???

In 2017, we’ve had the strongest recorded tornado in LA since the 1950s, a biblical thunderstorm (that consequently trapped me in my car for five hours), and, at one point, there were three active hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico simultaneously, which, scared the absolute crap out of me. I’ve never witnessed such a thing in my lifetime, and, frankly, my list of close encounters with supposedly once-in-a-lifetime weather events is much too long for my liking.

la-na-new-orleans-flood-20170810.jpg
After a 2-hour thunderstorm. I was stranded in my SUV down the street.

To my surprise, New Orleans has resembled Seattle more than a Gulf Coast city this year. With newly formed tropical storms and hurricane upgrades every day, I finally muted my weather alerts before hurricane season ended. I won’t even get into to the daily tornado/waterspout watches I recieved while driving across the longest bridge in the world (not hyperbole) to get to and from work.

All of this is to say, we’re never far off from apocalyptic weather or an ecodisaster down here.

2. Refusal to Put the Past to Rest

Another reason New Orleans serves as a popular dystopian backdrop is because our residents don’t just live in the past, they also glorify it.

Until I left the south, I never realized just how bizarre, let alone common, it is for a classmate to receive a scholarship from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). My mind is still boggled by the self-proclaimed American patriots around me who tote the flag of the losing side.

The confederate flag is so prevalent here, you would think it’s the state flag. I may be desensitized to this symbol now, but, as a child, I knew exactly what it meant without any verbal explanation and felt anxious every time I saw it. Children are perceptive enough to notice the commonality between flag-wielders, some of whom’s ancestors never fought in the Civil War.

While the confederate monuments have come down, this continues to be a hot-button issue among residents. The statues are permanently gone and never coming back, but people here refuse to move on, blaming any and every issue from flooding to poor fund management on metal and stone.

leecircle
Photo Credit: The Daily Signal

Class and racial tensions aren’t going anywhere, which provides a great backdrop for political unrest, injustice, war, primitivism, violence, corruption, and all the things that makeup dystopian works.

Baton Rouge, the state capital located less than an hour way, has the highest wage gap between men and women in the entire country. Baton Rouge and New Orleans also have the highest rates of HIV in the country. With one out of every 55 people in Louisiana is behind bars, we are the prison capital of the world. Oh and don’t forget that we dance in and out of the top 10 murder capitals on a regular basis.

Throw in the fact that the majority of these prisoners are black men performing prison labor, and you can see a new form of slavery that isn’t far off from plantation days. Actually, some of this labor is performed in plantations.

3. Decrepitude and Corruption

A lot of people (aka tourists) find New Orleans’ infrastructure to be “charming.” However, I’m well aware that the abandoned hospital around corner still has flood water from Katrina filling the bottom floor and parking garage. The roads and foundations are sinking faster than we can fix them. Black mold and asbestus run rampant in schools, homes, and public spaces.

Because we rely almost exclusively on tourism, the French Quarter is the only area that keeps up with preservation and maintenance, while the areas populated by local residents continue to show scars from Hurricane Katrina. The job market is almost exclusively service industry for the same reason.

Corruption is also notorious in New Orleans. Show me a politician that hasn’t blatantly embezzled money from taxpayers, and I’ll show you a unicorn. The worst part it though, is that the entire country knows this about us.

img_0079-1Yes, parts of this city are lovely and interesting because of their history, but tourists shouldn’t be the only people in the city who experience upkeep. But, all of this just makes Nola a better candidate for said dystopia.

Conclusion

Bottom line: There are a million reasons to love New Orleans, but this city still reflects past atrocities and what is still broken in modern society. Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst for this view on a national scale. However, the ingredients were there well before the storm and remain here today.

These are things we accept in New Orleans, and maybe that is in fact part of our charm. This is a city full of history, heartache, violence, ghosts, and tragedy. But it is also a place of love and magic, a place where people can express themselves without judgement.

There are things I would like to change, but the reality is that this colonial city is set in her ways. So, for now, you can either take it or leave it or just accept that nothing, including this crime-riddled city, is solely good or bad. Either way, no one in the US knows dystopia better than New Orleanians.

 

Prompt of the Day: Poetry

In five lines (no more, no less) incorporate:

  • the word “sliced”
  • the color “chartreuse”
  • something only you know about your mother
  • your favorite author

Here’s my attempt:

A Chain of Fish Hooks 

Chartreuse is just another way of saying yellow. Tawny and lime.

The way my mother likes to turn inside out quietly in the kitchen.

Neruda said, Eating alone is a disappointment. But not eating is

hollow and green. And that is how family feels. Like a verdant hole

or an animal’s sliced heart.  Careless breaking of something wild.

How to Write When You Have Nothing to Say

The Big Bad Block

Writer’s block, listless lingua, poetic impotence—whatever you want to call it—I’ve been forcing myself to write through it for years now. After all, one of Hemingway’s most famous works, The Old Man and the Sea, came directly out of writer’s block.

But after years of writing through it, the results—a ton of first chapters, hundreds of unfinished poems, and a slew of half-hearted essays—are less than desirable.

gordonramsy
Actual photo of me in undergrad.

Never in my life have I experienced writer’s block. I was always that ambitious student in the front row who could spin a tale from any assigned prompt, always volunteering to read it out loud at the end of class. So how did I get to this place?

  1. Exhaustion from professional reading, editing, and writing
  2. Writing endlessly through past trauma for creative purposes
  3. Pushing emotions down instead of using them as creative fuel
  4. Only looking at work through the lens of the reader
  5. Writing extensively sans passion/inspiration to beat the block

Hemingway may have been able to write through his soul-numbing creative drought, but I simply couldn’t do it anymore. Somewhere in the middle of grad school, the blank page became my enemy, reading felt like a burden, and I hated everything I managed to put into words.

500words
Actual footage of Hemingway writing drunk & editing sober

The Solution

What I’m talking about here is not your run-of-the-mill writer’s block. If it were, writing prompts, coffee shops, family squabbles, people watching, and a number of other random things would pull you out of it quickly.

I’m talking about something much more sinister. It is recurring exhaustion, disillusionment, existing in a mechanical or automatic state. It is going full-speed into Self-Deprecationlandia without any hope of resurfacing. It is the inability to find inspiration over prolonged periods of time, despite your dedication to “write through it.” It is losing touch with why you became a writer in the first place. No, what I’m talking about is longer and darker than standard writer’s block.

So how do you write through numb periods like this when the act feels on par with vacuuming a staircase or cleaning the toilet?

The simple answer is—you don’t!

When one of my undergraduate professors gave me this advice seven years ago, she changed my whole perception of writing and how it should be done. She said she went through periods of consumption and regurgitation. In other words, she took time to ingest lots and lots of media and mull over her thoughts before entering a long writing phase or working on a book project. This method is both obvious and sacrilegious at the same time.

So often as writers we are told to carve out a practice and stick to that schedule every single day, to write through writer’s block, and to, above all, never stop. In reality, I think this can be damaging to some of us.

At the upper echelons of academia, passion is inadvertently stamped out, while the pressure to publish, contextualize, and evolve reign. Production is never-ending. Some find this challenging and fun; others feel drained. Either way, you keep moving.

This professor’s advice permitted me to take a break from writing. And this professor is the only person ever to do so.

Rethinking Writing Practices

After so many years in this discipline, I no longer see the practice of writing in terms of black and white. Instead, I see it as a natural cycle or fluctuation. There are times when forcing yourself to write is helpful, even healing, and should be done. But that force can also reach a point of killing your passion for the craft altogether.

ts
The most chill I can muster rn

There is a timing and balance to writing that cannot be forced, which is why we find ourselves writing about childhood trauma decades later. You need enough emotion to power you through the act itself and enough distance to craft that feeling into something worth sharing with the world. You need time to analyze your emotions and the events in your life to fashion art from that.

Some write solely from raw emotion and experience, which many describe as reopening an old wound and letting it bleed. This type of writer also needs time to heal or practice self-care from time to time.

Even creative writing/lit professors take sabbaticals every few years to nourish their minds and spirits. While this suggestion goes against everything we’re taught as writers, I think it is necessary to say aloud. It’s okay if you have nothing to say right now. It will come to you later, and when it does, it will flow out in bursts. It will feel natural. It will not feel like a chore.

Most creatives have multiple interests, skills, and hobbies. Every time I put a pin in writing, I find it helpful to play piano, paint, crochet, draw, record songs using old poems as song lyrics, make gifts for upcoming holidays, take my pooches to the dog park, go hiking or to somewhere I’ve never been, research something I’ve always wanted to know more about, or take up a new hobby altogether. This provides a respite from the blank page while channelling other parts of your creativity, building your confidence back up, and giving you ample inspiration for your current or future projects.

hillsarealive
Actual clip of me conquering 3 years of writer’s block

 

Conclusion

It took three weeks of vacation for me to finally shake the last three years of writer’s block.

Spending time with my family, sleeping in my teenage bedroom, not pounding out copy/edits eight plus hours a day, watching my favorite sci-fi/fantasy films, and reading captivating books for the first time in ages all reminded me of why I do what I do and inspired a novel I truly care about finishing.

Forcing myself to write isn’t so bad—when I have something to say. Ultimately, inspiration and restfulness are paramount to my creativity and maybe to other’s creativity as well. Like medical treatments, writing practices aren’t one-size-fits-all. The most important thing is to listen to yourself and protect that well of creativity with everything you have. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what’s best for you.

Low-Carb Dieting

For the second time now, I have entered the blackhole that is the ketogenic diet. I don’t think that I have a gluten allergy necessarily, but I can’t deny the fact that every single time a refined carb enters my body the results are less than desirable. Like clockwork, my blood sugar immediately crashes, my stomach hurts, my arms and legs tingle and I can no longer see my feet, thanks to my suddenly bloated belly, while being simultaneously met with an insurmountable fatigue and brain fog that makes work difficult the rest of the day.

These also happen to be some of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance1, granted they could also be signs of countless other medical conditions. The point is, many of us experience symptoms like this throughout our lives and come to see it as normal.

It’s no secret though, that the ingredients which makeup refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar – are extremely unhealthy, especially at the rate the average American consumes them. That is one reason why I’m back on the ketogenic diet.

Another catalyst for my diet change stems from the life-long pleas of physicians, psychiatrists and family members to undergo testing for thyroid problems, anemia, mental illness and various autoimmune diseases.

As a chronically sick kid, I was tested extensively for autoimmune diseases. As an energy-devoid adult with mild depression and anxiety, I drug myself to the doctor’s office to have my blood drawn and tested for hypo and hyperthyroidism. The results are always the same – inconclusive. If I had a nickel for every time a doctor told me to take more vitamin D and B12…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck like I am now.

The truth is, no matter how many vitamins I shove down my throat, my symptoms persist. It wasn’t until I reached an unbearable point of exhaustion, depression and anxiety that I started logging my symptoms, eventually linking them to my diet. It was so obvious, and yet, I’d never really given my food a second thought when looking for the culprit.

Once I saw the link though, I couldn’t help but notice the wave of garbage feelings – physical, mental and emotional – that washed over me and clung the rest of the day like Saran Wrap.

By that point, I’d already been a pescatarian (from 14-19 years old), a twice-failed vegan and a brief raw enthusiast who shaved her own cucumber and zucchini noodles with a mandolin slicer every night. I’d been experimenting with fad diets most of my life, but carb elimination terrified me. Partially because a carb-less existence seemed pretty meaningless.

I think the main thing that freaked me out about low-carb dieting though, is that it goes against everything I’ve been taught on healthy dieting: “Meat is bad/causes cancer. Dairy is bad. Fat is bad.” My father was even put on the cholesterol medication, Lipitor, in his mid thirties after a huge weight loss on the Adkins diet.

The popularity of the paleo diet is what changed my mind in the end. It’s hard to argue with the back to basics logic inspired by our ancestors, to whom today’s obesity epidemic would be nothing short of a Black Mirror episode – but I digress. It just makes sense to me. I figured I should at least try a low-carb diet before writing it off.

The first few weeks of keto were rough the first time around. I felt hungry all of the time no matter what I ate. My body, deprived of carbs for the first time, was in shock. All I wanted was some comfort food like mac and cheese, avocado toast, pizza or at least a decent side-dish.

But after I got over that part of the diet, I was almost never hungry. I ate once or twice and felt satisfied the rest of the day. My food cravings completely evaporated. The biggest benefit though was that my blood sugar stabilized, and while I wasn’t exactly the Energizer bunny, I had more energy throughout the day, felt less moody and my concentration improved significantly. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the improvement either.

I did that for a three or four months before I fell off the wagon. I don’t remember why, but I think part of it related to my lifestyle. I still wanted to go out drinking with my friends. The problem with drinking on a low-carb diet, aside from the fact that you’re not supposed to drink at all, is that you can’t soak up the alcohol at the end of the night with delicous carbs. Every time I drank on the keto diet, I regretted it…a lot. That led to cheating which led to quitting altogether.

Although I’ve seen quite a few people manage to do it, this diet isn’t always sustainable. I’m not even sure if it’s the best possible fit for me or as healthy as it claims to be either, but it definitely makes me feel great. I’m not going to lie though…It’s only been three days, I already miss pizza, pasta, chips, mashed potatoes, fries and pretty much every kind of bread.

Truthfully, I think it would be irresponsible of me to fully endorse a low-carb diet since I’m not a registered dietitian, doctor or nutritionist. I also don’t believe there is any universal diet that works for everyone. You have to do what feels right for you, and you should definitely consult a medical professional before significantly changing your diet.

I will say that there are different levels to food allergies and intolerance. Gluten alleriges, for example, are mostly determined through elimination diets despite available blood tests and biopsies. Beyondceliac.org’s article Blood Tests to Diagnose Celiac Disease Under Scrutiny, says, “The fact that celiac disease has been given a comprehensive evidence review indicates an acknowledgement by Health and Human Services that there is a need for increased celiac disease diagnosis.”

Low-carb diets, like the ketogenic and paleo diet, are essentially elimination diets. I certainly didn’t think carbs could effect so many parts of my life until I stopped eating them. Even when I gave up on the diet the first time, I still made better choices afterward because I knew how much better my day would be on a low-carb breakfast.

Now wish me luck resisting the carb sirens on Day 4, please. I desperately need it.


1. [Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone has celiac or the gluten intolerance level of one. If you’ve ever witnessed someone with celiac post-gluten consumption, you won’t need much convincing of this.]

Movie Review: It (2017)

I’ve always been a massive horror geek. Naturally, I saw the IT remake last Saturday. Technically, it’s not a remake since the original IT (1990) is a miniseries, but we all know that this is the 2017 retelling of that miniseries/novel.

Ninety percent of the time remakes are a huge let down compared to the original, but that was not the case with the 2017 IT film. Can I tell you that I have not screamed that many times during a movie since the ripe age of 13? And I loved every second of it. My god, Pennywise will haunt my dreams for years to come and breed a whole new generation of coulrophobiacs. And I am here for it.

IT makes heavy use of the bus technique. If you’re not familiar with the “bus technique” made popular by the movie Cat People (1942), it’s essentially a false scare and usually occurs when a character feels like someone is about to get them, and right when this seems certain, something completely innocuous jars the character (and the audience). IT is full of “busses,” and every single one made me scream across the theater like a little girl (sorry, fellow movie goers).

Something else I really enjoyed about this film is the way “fear” changes for each child. In the original miniseries, It remains in clown form throughout the movie; the monster is universal. So if you’re not that scared of clowns, big whoop. In this 2017 version, It morphs into each child’s darkest fear – exactly like a boggart – switching from clown to leper to creepy-Picasso-painting woman to another character’s father.

I sort of have a unspoken rule when it comes to horror films that I think most people agree with: Don’t. Show. The. Monster. Cheap CGI and special effects are the fastest way to lose your audience and emasculate your monster. But that was not the case in this film. IT did not skimp on the animation budget, not one little bit.

I’m not going to spoil the movie plot anymore than I have, but I will say that this film is worth its salt.

Although the IT miniseries debuted in 1990, the book was released in 1986. The 2017 film is set in 1980s like the novel, which seems to fall in line with new wave 80s horror. It Follows (2015) is perhaps my favorite example of this genre; although, the director claims the film is anachronistic and inspired by one of his recurring nightmares.  While Stranger Things (2016) isn’t technically horror, or a movie for that matter, it certainly says something for the popularity of the 80s resurgence in film. And I can’t wait to see what follows.

Why I’m Over Dystopian YA Novels

I’ve been reading dystopian YA for as long as I can remember…well, 2008. I used to find such pleasure in these types of books, but lately, I can barely make it through the first few chapters. The Hunger Games, of course, holds a special place in my heart, but I can’t shake the feeling that this niche has run its course.

A few weeks ago, I started The Selection by Kiera Cass. After all of the hype and best-of lists, I could barely contain my excitement when I opened to the first page…and then I began reading. It felt familiar. Too familiar. The book starts with an impoverished, female protagonist explaining the caste system in her world mid-manual labor. Her mother relies way too much on her, and a handsome, hardworking, family-oriented guy is in the picture. It’s at this point in the book that I decide to stop reading.

The next book I picked up is almost identical. Red Queen begins with a young, female protagonist pickpocketing for survival. Hot-guy-friend tension right out of the gate. World-building exposition.

While The Selection‘s cast system is defined by numbers (District 12 anyone?) and Red Queen by colors, it’s impossible to ignore the similarities. To be fair, I haven’t given either of these books a fair chance or read enough of either to know exactly how different they are – but I don’t really care.

The disappointing thing about this genre is how overtly formulaic it is now. In a sea of Twilight (2005), The Hunger Games‘ (2008) felt like a breath of fresh air. I remember thinking, “The writing isn’t all that great, but damn, I haven’t read anything like this before.” Yes, you can draw comparisons to Lord of the Flies, Battle Royal, and so on, but Suzanne Collins took the Twilight love triangle and smashed it to pieces.

Twilight was a particularly disturbing YA phase. While it isn’t a dystopian novel, it is a bleak look at the future of relationships. The female protagonist, Bella, is helpless, in an arguably-abusive relationship, and her biggest life decision is choosing between two guys.

Katniss, on the other hand, is completely self-sufficient, strategic, selfless, brave, and she doesn’t have the luxury of getting lost in her love triangle.

Pretty kick-ass protagonist, right? Not in 2017. Everything I once loved about The Hunger Games is what I now hate about the genre. There are a million Katniss Everdeens in unfair class systems with two hot guys, a crappy mom, and some kind of competition/game/selection to win.

All of this is a far cry from where dystopia started, which begs the question: at what point are these books making real, thoughtful commentary on society? Or are they merely capitalizing on the genre’s popularity and rendering dystopia meaningless?

Dystopia sort of makes sense for young adults. When you’re young, everything feels like the end of the world.

You may have noticed that in every YA novel the parents are either dead, abusive, absent, or flawed to the point that the protagonist must become self-sufficient, which is meant to reflect children’s disillusionment with their parents and the desire to grow up. And while the use of class as a conduit for teen angst is highly questionable, I can understand why teens connect so deeply with dystopia.

But can we please do something different?

How to Be a Tourist in Your Own City in 6 Steps

Whether you’re feeling a little stagnant or just want to try something new, it’s never too late to discover untapped facets of your city.

 

1. Swallow your pride

In a place like New Orleans (my city), it’s hard not to get defensive when a tourist shows us something we didn’t already know about. Down here, we really pride ourselves on our ability to recommend the best restaurants, bars and music spots. But, if you really want to learn something new about where you live, you have to let that pride go. Live with the curiosity of an explorer, and don’t shut people down just because they’re not from your city. They just may offer you something life-changing.

 

2. Take a tour

I used to roll my eyes at the tourists who went on alligator tours, but it’s hard to deny how amazing this experience is once you’ve seen a 12-foot alligator jump six feet in the air and snatch a chunk of raw chicken out of a man’s hand.

I thought I knew everything about the Treme until I took a Segway tour.  While I knew all of the facts our docent listed off, I’d never gone “off-roading” in Louis Armstrong Park before.  And it was one of the most fun experiences of my life, mostly because of the Segway.  Learning how to ride that thing was hard at first, but it was such a unique way to see my city.

 

3. Change your route

I always notice new murals, restaurants, and popups when I take different routes.  Yes, the same routes are comfortable, and probably have less congestion, but when you’re not in a hurry, change it up!  You’ll be amazed at what you find.

 

4. Revisit your favorite childhood spots

You went to the zoo and aquarium a million times as a kid, right?  Surely, it hasn’t changed that much? Think again. How old are you now? Believe it or not, you’re all grown up now and the zoo probably isn’t what you remember. More importantly, returning to these places can fill us with a sense of child-like wonder and leave us inspired for weeks.

 

5. Rent a hotel or bed & breakfast

Our mood can improve just by getting away from regular routines and environments. Find a place in your favorite part of town or an area you don’t know very well. While you’re there, go to an unfamiliar restaurant. Unplug from technology and responsibility over the weekend.

 

6. Find solace in nature

Nothing makes me feel happier than being on the water – it’s like coming home. The second I feel that salty breeze through my hair, the stress of the work week just melts away. But you don’t have to go on the water to find your happy place or discover a different side to your city. Try exploring local hiking trails and state parks in your area. For me, that means heading into the swamp and hurtling alligators!