Seventeen-year-old Danielle Levine is your typical high school teenager – if you count having OCD and ADHD as typical. Danielle’s “special” conditions lead her to a school for students with learning disabilities, and, even here, she struggles to fit in.
How Danielle navigates her status as a “learning-challenged” teen pariah is told, with equal parts pain and hilarity, in Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s debut Young Adult novel, OCD, THE DUDE, AND ME, which Kirkus Review has hailed as a “must-read.”
Told through a mélange of Danielle’s class assignments, journal entries, emails, texts, and letters to the school psychiatrist, OCD, THE DUDE, AND ME chronicles Danielle’s efforts to fit into a world that, to her, can be as alien as a distant planet. Yet, Danielle will be recognizable to her readers, with her body-image issues, her crush on an unattainable boy, and her feelings of insecurity over the rigid social code of high school life.
Just as things seemingly couldn’t get worse for her, Danielle meets a new friend, Daniel, who turns her on to the Coen Brothers’ classic cult film THE BIG LEBOWSKI and its indelible main character, the ever-cool, ever abiding Dude. Daniel and Danielle end up going to the prom together and to Lebowski Fest, an annual event celebrating the Dude and his Buddha-like philosophy, which says that things will work out if you “abide.”
*QUICK JOURNAL #1* 9/6
First Day of School: Senior year
I should be getting ready for school right now, but I’m not because my mother has thrown off the flow of the morning. When she came in my room to bring me my new Adderall prescription, she tripped on the Romantic Era section of my library, books which are alphabetized, systematized, and laid out on the floor. It took all summer for me to get them exactly where I want them. It makes me happy just to look at them. When she tripped, she scattered the stacks out of order. I don’t think it took longer than five seconds before my body started shaking. I crunched myself into a fetal position and started to breathe as deeply as possible. Mom told me to calm down, like it’s no big deal to rebuild perfection. Austen’s works are now mixed with the Brontë sisters. I can’t find Browning. Wordsworth is under my bed, and Blake and Shelley have been kicked to a pile of dirty clothes near my dresser. I don’t have time to realphabetize them, and Mom is starting to lose her patience, pointing out I could choose to use my time doing that, instead of sitting here and typing out my angst. She’s wrong. Typing out my angst is exactly what I need to do if I’m going to get myself in any functional state for school. After all she says “It’s not a library” but rather a cluster of books I keep on the floor for people to trip over. According to her “libraries have shelves.” I told her shelves are not included in the technical definition of “library.” She told me to quit it with the semantics and get dressed. Whatever.
Another huge issue is that I wanted to finish gluing the pieces of charming postcards I cut up to decorate this year’s “me-moir” binder, my fourth writing collection. Each year’s binder—the sacred place I keep all my school essays, journals, personal me-moir entries, e-mails, etc. My writing is best served contained, away from the eyes of others, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have exquisite packaging. Obviously.
Since freshman year when my parents forced me to go to a “special school,” these binders are the only things that have made it bearable. Intense planning and a sea of supplies are required to build the perfect home for chronicling my life. It’s the best living history I’ve got. Every entry has its own color-coded sheet protector. Last week, I cut up six postcards, all with scenes of loving couplehood from the nineteenth century that weren’t a fit among the crowd taped on my headboard. Once it’s finished, they will fit together like an ornate puzzle. Which. Is. Awesome. Or would be, if this weren’t the first day of senior year and hundreds of pieces remain unglued.
At least my back-to-school outfit is staying the same. There is no question about that. I am wearing my black combat Chucks and have managed to untangle my XL burgundy T-shirt from the twisted pile on my bed, which is where my tees like to live. My black leggings and black beret with the tiny feather that stands straight up will complete my look of “rotted lonely pear in bowl”—a still life. Appropriate.
*CLASS ASSIGNMENT* 9/10
Essay #1: My Biography
(This is what I turned in and got a C+ on after having to read it in front of the class because Ms. Harrison believes in “publishing” as an important part of the writing process. Make no mistake: I did not read the introduction or the conclusion aloud. Also, I have no interest in Ms. Harrison’s humiliating version of “publishing.” Clearly, I’ve got my own system for that.)
Ms. Harrison, I liked the authors’ tea you planned where we all discussed the books we chose to read over the summer. I hope you could tell by my class comments that I liked Wuthering Heights. You have no idea how much my parents got in to reading that book with me. And, well, I got in to it, too. I dressed as Catherine. I have a lot of vintage dresses with puffy sleeves and petticoats (which generally stay in my closet) and a bunch of hats, from every era imaginable, and those were appropriate accents for this family read-aloud. (Very important note: don’t tell any of my classmates that we dressed up and read the book together. Please.) While my parents may have fantasized that their love lives were akin to Catherine and Heathcliff’s, let me assure you that the truth is no such thing. They were raised in the lap of luxury; they fell in love in college and have stayed in love; and they both make tons of money. Their hearts have never been torn asunder. I think this is a good place to transition into the meat of the essay you are looking for.
I am adopted. My parents’ names are Doug and Evelyn. I don’t mind being adopted. I have no idea who my biological parents are. Most people know immediately that I am adopted because I don’t look anything like my parents. (Neither of them has a wild nest of red hair or thunder thighs.) My dad is a doctor and my mom is a successful real estate agent. I think about how she is a real, estate agent because she sells big houses to rich people. I could never be a real estate agent because once my clients saw that I had to lock every outside door at least fifty times after a tour, they’d never call me again. LOL, but it’s true. And, a doctor? No way. No one’s life should be left in my hands. I can barely do math; I couldn’t possibly tackle problems related to the human body. Makes me dizzy just contemplating it. (Btw, Ms. Harrison, if you want our essays to include the vocabulary words you are teaching us, you are going to have to allow me to italicize them. I cannot just let a new word blend in with my old vocabulary. Thank you.)
I’ve attended Meadow Oaks School since the ninth grade. This school (as you know) is for high-potential students with learning disabilities, which is a euphemistic phrase for kids who don’t do well in school in some areas but whose IQs are still fine somehow. We’re all smart, but we have various “academic issues” that require some specific help from experts. You know the deal. What I like best about this school is that since almost everyone is Jewish, we get off a lot because of religious holidays. My family is no religion, so I don’t have to go to temple or church on the holidays. Usually on those days I read.
I don’t have any brothers and sisters or any pets. I have a housekeeper, Martha, and I’m very grateful for her because of my “materials management problems” as you call it. “Materials management” sounds more like a major in business college than a personal problem. You can just say I’m messy. I won’t be offended; I’m not blind to the truth. My own mother tells me my backpack “looks like a cyclone hit it.”
My mom recently redecorated our two-story house to “reflect her aesthetic” of warm-colored walls and brightly colored accent pieces, but she left my room alone because clutter, scratches on the hardwood floors, and hats hanging on the wall are my aesthetic. People who love garage sales or go antiquing would love my room. But, don’t misunderstand, nothing in there is for sale.
My parents bought me a used hybrid vehicle so I can drive myself to school in a responsible way, but I have to pay my own car insurance. I get paid to walk the neighbors’ dogs up in the hills where we live, south of the boulevard in the Valley, and that is how I have money to pay for my phone and fund my snow globe obsession. Generally, I get snow globes whenever I go on trips, and I like the ones that have scenic or gentle images that are frozen in time. I don’t know why. I just do.
Teacher comments: If you have aside comments, please make an appointment to speak with me. Include only ideas relevant to the topic.
*QUICK JOURNAL #2* 9/10
Just talking myself down
Writing “my biography” essay at the start of senior year sent me into somewhat of a tailspin. I survived the first days of school by wearing the right shoes and hats and by avoiding any vulnerable contact with the pretty and popular crowd (Heather, Sara, James, John, etc.), who make being at school look so easy. But once I had to start writing about myself (even though I like doing that under the right circumstances), I suffered a case of vertigo. I had to lie on my bed under my T-shirts for a bit.
Here is my current loop of obsessive thoughts: 1. It bothers me to think about all the upcoming school events that I will be alone for. 2. Just like every other year, I hate that Heather cuts in front of me in the lunch line and whips out her phone and starts talking so I can’t say anything. 3. I keep thinking about that day in PE last year, where I was the only person who couldn’t run the mile without taking breaks. My classmates, possessed of personal trainers, low heart rates, and taut physiques finished the run in like two seconds. By the second lap, I was gasping for air and so sweaty that they probably took bets on whether or not I’d die of a heart attack right before their eyes. I had hoped I would.
I have reordered the snow globes on my dresser about a hundred times. They are very calming. Nearly all of them depict life’s perfect moments, and when I give myself time to stare at them, they offer hope of a better world. Now they are in proper clusters. Farmhouses, landscapes, and historic monuments on the left, playful girls in the center, and couples in love on the right.
Next I’m going to try on all my hats and then stare at the postcards on my headboard to lose myself in a fantasy, where I convince myself that someday I will be somewhere other than right here.
*CLASS ASSIGNMENT* 9/16
Essay #2: That’s Wonderful
(I love this essay even though Ms. Harrison did not because it was not organized and the tone was too informal, which Ms. Harrison is obsessed with. B- from Ms. Harrison but A+ from my aunt Joyce who read the essay and loved it.)
It was really wonderful to think about something wonderful. The sun was coming in through my bedroom window as I sat at my desk to write, so I put on my bright yellow Chucks and yellow sunhat and tried to let their happy color and the sun’s warmth sink into me in order to come up with a good topic. It worked! I have decided to write this essay about my aunt Joyce.
My aunt Joyce is forty-two years old, single, and has no kids. Now, before you get any prejudicial ideas about what she is like, let me tell you. My aunt Joyce is spectacular. She is beautiful: blond hair, thin thighs, smooth voice, perfect fingernails, great clothes—which she looks great in because she is a size two and a fashion designer. She gets me the most amazing hats and cool clothes, reflecting a time before sewing machines (lots of ribbons and laces), that we pull out of my closet and try on when we’re together. My mom has very short brown hair that highlights her bone structure but which does not lend itself to petticoats and flowery bonnets; however, sometimes she joins us for our costume parties anyway. Like the time we all tied ourselves into these elaborate corsets and pretended we lived the lives of the women I only read about. So fun. (However, I do worry those women were never able to take a deep breath while dressed. Terrible.) Besides classic and stylish clothing, Joyce has turned me on to some old music like Tom Petty, and I’ve turned her on to The Romantic Era, which is an awesome band (all six of the guys are so cute it’s unbelievable; you should check out their album. They have one song about Juliet . . . as in Romeo and . . . I think it’s right up your alley).
My aunt Joyce is not what your mind might jump to when you think single white female. Anyway, she and a friend did this WONDERFUL thing. They threw a shower for themselves! It was tight.
My aunt Joyce told me that over the course of her life she went to so many baby showers and wedding showers that she couldn’t keep track of them all. So one day, she and her friend Karen were talking about all the time, attention, and money they spent on going to their girlfriends’ showers and how that time, attention, and money was probably never going to be reciprocated because they were destined to be single and childless for the rest of their lives, and while that is a fine thing to be, they would never have the fun of registering for gifts and having people celebrate them in a way that was not about their age. So they decided to “f*** social constraints” as my aunt put it and throw themselves a shower. (Isn’t that wonderful? I mean, really.)
They both registered at Pottery Barn and Target. (Joyce told me that at Target they asked all kinds of questions about her registry, and she was forced to make it a bridal registry, and so she had to make up the name of her fiancé, and she gave the name of a super-famous movie star that she has had a mad crush on forever, but I won’t out that here because Aunt Joyce’s decade-long fantasy crush is her business, and she played all coy when the salesgirl asked if it “was the real so-and-so” and the salesgirl got all excited because my aunt wouldn’t deny the veracity of the claim, but how silly, because why would a movie star’s wife-to-be register at Target? Please.)
Anyway, the party was at my house, and the women in my family love a good garden party. My aunt put my hair up in a Gibson girl–style, and, for a change, I felt very sophisticated out in actual life. Mom bought out every florist shop in Los Angeles to decorate, and she ordered three large ice sculptures for the backyard. Stunning. The hummingbirds my mom knows and loves (she actually names them) were out in full force, and they were the background music of the day. We had afternoon tea, played charades and croquet, and watched Joyce and Karen open presents in the backyard garden of my house. Just writing about the day makes me feel light as air. (That feeling rarely happens to me.)
I may be single my whole life, but my aunt will help me cope with whatever I become. Aunt Joyce and her shower are wonderful!
Teacher comments: Don’t use profanity—ever—in these essays. You are lucky to have Aunt Joyce.
Lauren Roedy Vaughn is especially equipped to write Danielle’s story. She has been a special education teacher and a writer for nearly 20 years. In 2005, she received the Walk of Hearts Teaching Award, and she serves on the Board of the International Dyslexia Association’s Los Angeles Branch. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, when she was in elementary school. She came to California for college, met her husband at the University of California, Irvine, and they have lived in Southern California ever since. Together, they share a love of The Big Lebowski. When not teaching, reading, or writing, Lauren is usually on a yoga mat.