13 Reasons Why: Is Everyone to Blame?

13 Reasons Why: Is Everyone to Blame?

I mentioned briefly last week that I was going to talk about the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. But just to reiterate, I have not seen the wildly popular Netflix show and this will have pretty much nothing to do with the show. I read the book in high school, loved it, and reread it last week on my day off in preparation for writing about it. I did read a list someone made about the differences between the book and show but beyond that, I know little about the show so I can’t comment on it or compare it to the book.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not particularly close to the topic of suicide. I know a few people who have told me much later that they had considered suicide at one point in their life but beyond that, I have not been closely, personally, directly affected by a loved on committing suicide or by any thoughts myself. I’ve experienced the tragedy through friends of friends and others. It is absolutely heartbreaking. Regardless that I haven’t experienced it directly, I am still horrified and saddened when I hear about it.

THERE MAY BE BOOK SPOILERS IN THIS ANALYSIS BUT NOTHING TOO BOOK-SHATTERING IN MY OPINION SO READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. There may be show spoilers too but we have thoroughly established that I wouldn’t know about those.

So the main story in the book is that there is a high-schooler named Clay Jensen who has received a box of cassette tapes. Those tapes have a message recorded on them by Hannah Baker, a high school student who recently committed suicide. She tells her story by linking her decision to commit suicide to thirteen people, thus we have thirteen “reasons”. Since Clay got the tapes, he has to be on them somewhere.

Obviously, the book deals with suicide. More specifically, it deals with the aftermath of suicide. Hannah dies before the book begins then Clay learns of the many reasons/people who Hannah ‘blames’ for her reaching the end of her life. However, she doesn’t fully play it off as other’s responsibilities that she chose to end her own life, “it all comes back to–it all ends with–me” (page 253).

She acknowledges that, in the end, she is making this choice. During her conversation with the school counselor she says toward the end, “I got what I came for” (278). She wasn’t going in looking to change her mind. She went only for her self-fulfilling prophecy. Arguably, the counselor could have done better in the conversation but at the same time, she wasn’t looking for help anymore so equally arguably he did all in his power.

There’s a recurring theme throughout the novel that can essentially be summed up as collective responsibility. On a personal level, Clay feels responsible for Hannah’s death because he got the tapes and because he liked Hannah but never worked up the courage to really make anything of a relationship with her. He repeats in different ways, “I would’ve answered any question, Hannah. But you never asked” (78). While Clay didn’t reach out too much to Hannah, Hannah also never really reached out to Clay.

The feelings of betrayal go both ways. Although Hannah doesn’t blame Clay, she obviously feels somehow betrayed by him since he is still on the tapes so he did play some role. Yet Clay also feels betrayed by Hannah because she never came to him but had unspoken feelings for him. So they both failed the other. Asher doesn’t play that as blame specifically. It’s a subtle way to show a responsibility we have for each other.

At one point, Clay talks about seeing one specific boy act inappropriately with some of the girls from his school. The girls are obviously uncomfortable and it’s a recurring problem that Clay has seen many times and he’s had opportunity to intervene, “But instead, every time, I pretend not to notice. What could I do anyway?” (50). Clay is now seeing a possible result of ignoring this kind of behavior since Hannah was also subjected to the actions of this boy. He’s not responsible for the actions of an individual but he’s responsible as part of the collective. It wasn’t just him ignoring the behavior, it was everyone else around them ignoring it too. While Clay fails to intervene, the collective fails too. Clay even says, “We’re all guilty of something” (108).

But Asher shows that not everyone feels guilty. When Clay comes across Marcus on the street, Marcus says, “I don’t belong on those tapes. Hannah just wanted an excuse to kill herself” (110). So at least one person is taking zero personal responsibility for Hannah’s death. That doesn’t change the way Clay feels at all though and by the end, he grows as a person. He chooses to reach out to a girl he’s noticed before. The book ends as he literally says her name in the hall to get her attention.

Clay has become sensitive to collective responsibility. He clearly acknowledges that Hannah made the decision to end her life, thus it is not his personal responsibility but hers. Yet he feels the collective guilt that comes from tragedy.

What have we done that a person feels this is the only way out?

How can humanity be like this?

Why didn’t anyone see the signs?

These are the questions people ask when a tragedy occurs and these questions put the responsibility on the collective rather than the individual. Yet no one has to take personal responsibility for the tragedy except the one individual who directly caused it.

Talking about collective responsibility can be difficult because in the end, we are each responsible for our individual choices no matter how bad or good those choices are and regardless of circumstances. Yet, at the same time, we make choices every day that directly affect other people in sometimes very intimate ways. So where do I become responsible for your actions?

That’s less of a direct question and more of a let’s-start-a-discussion-on-that kind of question because it’s a grey area in my opinion.

13 Reasons Why can be seen as that question in book form. Asher shows both sides of the conundrum: Hannah’s personal responsibility for her own life while and also the collective responsibility of the 13 people on the tapes. It’s very nuanced and I don’t see Asher drawing a hard line where one person stops being responsible and the other starts. Instead, he creates a compelling narrative that weaves between the lines of one person’s troubled relationships with individuals who are part of a larger collective.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

But I Don’t WANNA Research!!

But I Don’t WANNA Research!!

On about Tuesday of this week I had a post idea in mind. Oh, it was good. And I’ll still probably write it but it’s not going to happen today. Why? Because it is 6pm and I’m writing this in a near panic to get this posted at a decent hour today.

I wanted to do an analysis of the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (which would’ve been really timely but now will probably get lost in the sea of posts about it already but I guess that’s the price I pay). I read it in high school and with the Netflix show out it has become pretty popular (not to mention I work in a book store and we sold out of the book pretty fast). So on Tuesday I reread the book and remembered how much it had meant to me at the time and how I felt like it was getting some very harsh and undeserved criticism because of the show. I don’t have Netflix so I won’t be writing a compare/contrast, just a straight analysis of the book: what I remember from my first read, what I found on my second, etc.

“Hey,” you say to me. “You thought of this Tuesday and you didn’t write the post for this week? That’s a lot of days to NOT write it.”

It is. And of course there were probably some opportunities to write it but on the whole I was extra busy this week. My cat has been pretty ill this week too. Last night, after work, I went to my church’s Secret Church gathering to catch the tail end of it. Then I woke up earlier than I probably should’ve because my brain hates me. Then my mother, sister, and I went to a special fundraiser for 91four that was a good time and helped a great cause. So it’s been a long and stressful week with some but not as many as usual opportunities to write my post.

I did get some notes down and figured out some quotes from the book I want to use but I really need to take more time to figure out what I want to say. I’m a fan of analysis and I’ve enjoyed the little I’ve been able to do this week, it’s just not enough for a post yet.

So that’s on hold until I do some more research and while I like analysis on my own, I don’t like research.

I told my coworker this week that I won’t write historical fiction or essentially anything that takes place around real events because I hate researching those things. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning. I can spend hours looking up a topic and I can get sucked down a rabbit hole of websites pretty fast. However, those moments are generally accidental. Like, I look up one little fact and suddenly I’m looking into getting a textbook on a completely different topic. It takes a lot of my willpower to sit down and choose to research.

But I’m finding that what I want to write about these days is going to take some research. Nothing too crazy but I want to be able to back up what I say. Yeah, all of this blog is just my opinions right now and that’s okay, I like it. I’m not going to stop sharing those thoughts. I just have topics in mind that need more time and energy to write about coherently.

Sorry that two posts these last few weeks have essentially just been “I’m not writing the post I intended, apologies” kind of things. Some things have been changing in my life and I want to keep up on everything but I don’t want to lie to you or post something I’ll despise later. I won’t put up a front or act like I have everything together for this blog because (it’s in the name isn’t it?) I want to be honest above everything else. I guess right now, these not-so-normal-posts are part of that.

It’s Not “Who You Are”, You’re Just Being a Terrible Person

Image result for I'm running out of excuses for being late

That image makes its round on social media from time to time and it’s funny but also annoying. I know, we’ve all been late before (or incredibly early) and it’s not like that’s a big deal. People are fairly understanding about it. Then you have people who are chronically late. They can’t seem to get anywhere on time. Their friends tell them the party starts at 6pm because they won’t walk in until the real start time at 8pm.

Look, I get it. It can be difficult to manage your time. But at some point you have to realize you’ve crossed the line from quirky but lovable late friend to inconsiderate friend who can’t be bothered to show up when they’re supposed to. You’re not funny when you use the above excuse. You’re annoying. Like, yeah, that little chuckle you shared definitely makes it up to me that you’ve wasted everyone’s time and possibly made us late for appointments I can’t control.

It’s not even JUST about being late. It’s about using “It’s just who I am” as an excuse to be a crappy person.

“That comment was pretty rude.”

“I’m just a blunt person.”

 

“I’d rather you not use profanity around my kids.”

“That’s is just how I talk.”

 

“Kind of inconsiderate to gift a jar of peanut butter to someone with a peanut allergy, don’t you think?”

“Oh I’m just terrible at giving gifts. I can’t help it.”

No. Saying it’s part of your character doesn’t make it any less rude, obnoxious, and inconsiderate. I’m so sick of people using it as an excuse to be a bad person. If being rude is part of your identity then your identity needs to change. If wasting people’s time is part of your character then you need to change your character. You can’t just decide that everyone else has to bow down to your personal flaws. Yes! FLAWS.

We all have flaws in our character. It’s not like that’s a new concept. But more and more I hear people excuse flaws by saying those negative things are just part of “who they are.” Which is stupid. If someone calls you out on that excuse you can say the they just doesn’t understand you, don’t like you, obviously just can’t get along with people. You can put all the blame on the other person instead of taking responsibility for yourself.

Blunt people can still be polite, it’s about knowing when to keep your mouth shut, not what comes out of it. Late people can work on time management skills by enlisting friends to send them reminders, keeping a time journal, setting things out for events the day before, etc. If you’re terrible at gift giving then maybe just ask someone close to the person what they might want and if that fails just give cash, it’s better than a bad present.

You are your own person. No one is forcing you to wallow in your own flaws or making you accept them as part of yourself that you can’t possibly change. Just stop. Be a better person than yourself 5 years ago. While I fully believe in having confidence in who you are, don’t sell yourself short or settle for less than the best. You’re not sacrificing who you are to become a better version of yourself. You’re simply learning and growing into the best you that you can be.

Feeling Off

I wrote a post for this week and didn’t feel great about it so I sent it to a friend for feedback. They said it was okay but seemed a bit rambly and the tone was a tad self-righteous in spots. It was exactly what I didn’t want. The topic wasn’t anything controversial but it was a last minute choice to write about it and I wasn’t exactly invested.

That’s not how I want to run this blog. I don’t ever want to post something I don’t feel right about. Not that I felt wrong, it’s more that I felt off. It wasn’t quite me. It wasn’t quite what I wanted. It wasn’t quite worth sharing.

I was looking up how to get more traffic to my blog this week (which is possibly part of the problem because it got me feeling pretty down). The advice I kept finding came in three parts: to use clickbait titles, use key words a lot to show up in Google search better, and make your posts longer than 1,000 words because Google favors those.

I refuse to use clickbait for my titles. I try to title my posts in such a way that if someone were looking through my archives they would get an idea of what the posts were about just by the title. Clickbait doesn’t do that so well (although it’s not impossible). I didn’t get a chance to look up any keywords yet so I can’t really comment on whether or not I’d be willing to use any. I have a feeling I would have to force them into posts. As for making my blog longer, I make my posts less than 1,000 words because I feel like it’s a good length. It’s a fast read and I’ve even mentioned before how I like to say what I need to say in as few words as possible. So that’s right out the window. My posts may change length over time but it’ll happen organically, not just to get more views.

I want to share. I want to give. I want to make the world better. I want to debunk stereotypes about Christians. I want to spread God’s love. I want each reader to learn. I want to learn about my readers, their opinions, their thoughts, their lives. I want to learn about myself. I want to learn about God. I want to feel passion for what I talk about.

If I’m not focused on those things then there’s no point in me writing at all.

This post, I suppose, is simply a refocusing. I’ve felt a bit off for the last two weeks and I think it’s just some little things going on in my life. Some are good and some aren’t good. They all need space in my head regardless of positiveness.

Life is life. God is good. Moving on to a hopefully better week and feeling like myself again.

Speak Only If You Must

Speak Only If You Must

It never ceases to amaze me how many people can speak without saying anything at all. I know quite a few of them and sometimes I am one of them. Here, in writing, I can cut words and delete paragraphs so as to get my points across as concisely as possible. Conversation can be more difficult.

My dad has always been a fan of saying as much as he can in as few words as possible. It wasn’t until I let my cousin edit a story I’d been writing that the lesson really stuck. She crossed out nearly every adverb, extra description, and many of my speech tags. I don’t remember her exact words but it was along the same lines as my father’s advice: eliminate the unnecessary to get to the point.

It’s solid writing advice. It’s a good way to edit your first couple drafts because it lets you get down to the absolute bare bones of a story. You get to see exactly what’s needed for your work and then your second or third draft can be fleshed out as opposed to needing both cutting and fleshing at the same time.

I have a habit of thinking out loud during conversation. This means that there are a lot of moments where I repeat myself, in different ways, because I’m still thinking about it. Or I’ll stop the whole conversation and stare into the distance as I repeat it in my head to get the right vocabulary and inflection. I also talk to myself, usually when I’m driving alone so that I don’t have to think so hard when I am in conversation. Essentially, I’m figuring out how to say what I want in the way easiest for others to understand. I do it with blog post ideas a ton.

I do catch myself when I start the repetition and I think, for the most part, some repetition is okay as long as it’s clear you’re trying to say something with different connotations. So I’m always working on it.

There are those, however, who really don’t even try.

It’s not even that they repeat themselves, it’s more that they have nothing to say but keep talking. You know who I’m talking about. You’re telling a story about some hilarious misunderstanding you had with your grandma to illustrate your feelings on the generation gap and they suddenly break in with a story about their cat. The cat has nothing to do with the generation gap, it’s not a funny or particularly interesting tale, and it isn’t furthering the conversation. It’s actually slowing the discussion to a crawl. You try to guide the topic back to generational divide but somehow they come up with another completely unrelated story.

They’re conveying information but that information is not entertaining, educational, or thought-provoking. It’s not doing anything productive. It’s them talking to talk. You gain nothing from the conversation and they get to hold your attention for a few minutes. On the whole, I think that’s what they want the most: attention. It’s not about saying anything important or sharing ideas or making the other person smile. It’s about them. They’ve been given a platform and haven’t prepared a worthwhile speech so they say whatever they can to hang onto their podium.

Listen to the other person and listen to yourself. What are you trying to say? Is there a point? If there’s no other reason except that it popped into your head then keep your mouth shut. It may become relevant later but wait for that moment. Sometimes you never get to share a story or anecdote because there’s no good moment for it. Don’t panic. There will be other conversations.

There will be meandering conversation that isn’t about anything particularly deep or intensely interesting. But even in those moments, use your words wisely. Make sure it’s worth it to break the silence.