Leigh Ann: And now we’re all quiet!
Forest: The microphone is on now so that makes a huge difference.
[Sounds of agreement.]
Leigh Ann [mocking]: “We should be recording this!” Hit record. Silence.
Forest: Our life story.
Carrie: Yes. Okay. Well, I guess let’s do this, then.
All right, lit nerds, as you can see, um, you can probably tell from our chipper voices that we are super excited about the text we’re talking about today on today’s Modcast. And, um, really what we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be digging into 15 life lessons from The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. Um, and joining me today, as always, are the lovely ladies Leigh Ann, Forest, and Lane. And I am Carrie, if you can’t tell by now.
And so let’s get into our first life lesson!
Leigh Ann: Okay–
Leigh Ann: I didn’t know it was my turn!
Leigh Ann: So, I think one of the most important takeaways of this book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, it’s–
It’s about this middle school girl who has no arms, and it talks about how she–how she survives, basically, you know. One of the most important takeaways here is it’s disabled as identity. You don’t use disabled as an insult or to mean that a person is a lesser being than someone who has arms, for example.
So, it’s like…I grew up in sort of the same strain. It took a lot for me to learn how to see myself with a sense of humor and get away from other people’s perceptions about my abilities. So it was nice seeing another disabled character really own that.
Carrie: Yeah, um. Absolutely.
And you get the sense from Aven in here that she doesn’t see herself as disabled at all, necessarily. Like, she, um…She considers herself, like, very capable. Right. Um, and in fact, like, she helps, um, a couple of boys that become her friends–Connor, who has Tourette’s, and then…
Leigh Ann: Zion.
Carrie: Zion, yes, um.
Leigh Ann: He’s fat.
[Laughter and overlapping voices.]
Carrie: –from The Matrix!
Carrie: Yeah! Um I was like, “Zion? Wait a second, where do I know Zion from? Yes, from The
Um, as you said, um, like, you know, come to grips with the fact that…
Forest (laughing): He’s not fat, he’s chunky.
Leigh Ann (insistently): He’s fat, though! It’s not a bad term.
Carrie: No, it’s not a bad term–
Leigh Ann: Just look at Lizzo!
Carrie: Right! She owns that. She owns that.
Um, but yeah. So, seeing–She helps Connor really in terms of the fact that because he has just because he has Tourette’s does not mean that he has to separate himself away from everybody. Right, he’s not disabled. He just has a unique thing, a different ability.
And something, um, another life lesson from that is this idea of, you know, finding independence. Right. No matter what, um, ability you have. Um, and I think that that is kind of, like, really great, where this book is centered, uh, because Aven is a middle schooler. And middle
schoolers are all about starting to find independence, and they start to test lots of little boundaries with parents and with friends.
Um, and then they’re also, like, really trying to find their places in society. And you see also, um, like as Aven, um, moves to Arizona, like, she’s just thrown into this situation where she doesn’t know anybody, and people aren’t familiar with her, um, her being armless. Um, and so they…
Leigh Ann: They basically ostracize her.
[Sounds of agreement.]
Leigh Ann: Stare at her while she’s trying to eat, which of course makes her feel very uncomfortable, like, makes her unable to eat because everybody is staring at her.
Carrie: Right, because she has to eat with her feet.
Forest: I think that that’s why it appeals to such a…like, to us, especially because I feel we all kind of enjoyed the storyline, is this, uh, this fight for independence. And, like, you know, I’m sure we’ve all gone through it no matter what has happened to us in our lives. And so we kind of like push the boundaries and test the boundaries and see what we’re capable of and, you know, if we can’t go that far, we can’t go that far.
But I think Aven is, like, one of those kind of role models where we look at her and it’s like, if she can do this without arms, why can’t we do that?
Carrie: Right. Yeah, absolutely.
And I, um, I see that, too, and her, um, is that like, when I was reading this, um, I was like, you know, I almost started thinking of Aven as not somebody, like, different who had no arms, but as just like a normal, like, middle schooler.
Lane: Like, you forget she doesn’t have arms.
[Sounds of agreement.]
Carrie: Yes, you absolutely do because that is not the focal point of what she’s going through. It’s like, it’s–it’s just–Everybody feels different when they’re in middle school.
Lane: Well, and I think with all of them that you forget about what’s quote unquote wrong with them. You just see them as normal characters who are going through their teenage years and
struggling to fit in at school and at home, etc.
Carrie: Yeah. Um, and we kind of hit some of our 15 important life life lessons there, like Don’t Watch People Eat because that’s really, really uncomfortable. Um, you never know when somebody maybe has problems with food or special needs diets or anything like that, so food is picky and as somebody who dealt with that quite a bit, um, herself: food is picky!
And then the teenage years suck, and it doesn’t matter…It doesn’t matter who you are or what
different abilities you have. Those middle grades just–They’re the worst.
Forest: They’re terrible. They’re god-awful.
Carrie: They really are. And they get better, they do!
Lane: I can only imagine they would be horrible in the middle of Arizona.
Carrie (singsongs): Oh my gosh I’m gonna talk about the middle of Texas
Forest: It gets really rough, yeah.
Carrie: Um. Uh, so I know I’ve mentioned I’m a high school teacher before, and, uh, you know, when people are like, “Oh, what do you teach?” “Oh I teach high school.” They’re like, “Oh, that must be so difficult!” I’m like, I’m like, “At least it’s not middle school!”
Oh yeah. I spent one year teaching middle school and never, never again. Seventh graders? Mm-mm. No, thank you!
Um, and so, um, through all of that then, that–that looking for independence, and things like that, kind of gets us to another one of these life lessons we took from her is you have to learn to love yourself.
[Sounds of agreement.]
Carrie: No matter, like…No matter what stage of life you’re in, no matter what’s going on in your life, like, you have to learn to love yourself.
Because you–you’re stuck with you.
Forest: Yeah. Yeah, and I think that goes into trusting your own abilities.
So no matter what, if you don’t love yourself, you’re not going to be able to move on to trusting yourself and what you’re capable and able to do. And I think that’s the most important kind of lesson that should be taken away from this kind of novel, just because if we put our mind to it, we’re capable and able to do anything.
Carrie: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I always think about, like, learning to love yourself.
I was thinking about it, like, for myself. Like, going along with the eating thing, it’s like, I’ve always been obsessed with my weight. I’ve always been obsessed with my weight, and I always think now that I didn’t appreciate when I was thinner because I was like, Oh, I’m not–I’m not thin enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not, you know, wearing the right sized clothes, and stuff like that. And so, like, part of, like, I think, getting healthy is learning to love yourself and being able to have grit to overcome those things.
And one of the ways, um, that I think Aven does this or helps other people learn this is that you have to look out for your friends. You have to show them that there are things to love about them as well, like she does with Connor, who…
Leigh Ann (randomly interjects): He has Tourette’s.
Carrie: Right. He has Tourette’s.
Leigh Ann: And what he does when–One of his tics is that he barks like a dog sometimes. And then when he’s in class or when he’s, when he’s nervous or excited it starts to come out more, but even when he’s not nervous or excited they still sometimes come.
And other students will bark back at him as a way of making fun of him. And Aven is present during one of these moments, so she stands up and she yells, “Whoever did that, that’s not nice and you should be ashamed!”
So that’s one way to stick up for your friends, and it’s really important to do that because that lets them know that you’re there for them no matter what.
And another thing that Aven does to, um, help Connor learn to love himself is she supports him, and she goes with him to a, um–
Overlapping: Support group.
Carrie: Support group! Right, and there are a myriad of delightful characters in that support group. Um, and…
Leigh Ann: Chicken nipple.
Carrie: Yeah, chicken nipple.
Yes. Uh, and it, and–and it’s really kind of great to see that interaction, too, because they don’t see each other necessarily as different, right? They’re all talking about their, their different things they have to overcome.
And, um, one of the things I really really enjoyed about this was how supportive Aven’s parents were in this process. And it’s really interesting that they were so supportive because they are not
her biological parents.
[Sounds of agreement.]
Carrie: Right. So, um, family can be who you want it to be by choice. Right?
And that–and that these loved ones then become, like, your anchor and support and in fact like his, um, I’m sorry Aven’s mom even goes so far as to help Connor out because he’s afraid to go out into public and he–to see a movie and she rents out a theater for him.
I think now about, um. I know, um, I know for sure here in San Antonio Santikos does the, um–I can’t remember the exact name of them, but they are the screenings of movies for, um, children
that are typically on, like, the spectrum or stuff like that. I can’t remember. There’s a special name for that and that one just blanked out of my head.
But, um, I’m always really surprised.
Forest: They do Christmas things, too, every year, and so they bring in, like, a Santa and the kids come in, and no matter how long it takes they give the time. Because sometimes, you know, for different children obviously it’s going to take a little bit longer because some kids might be anxious, some might be scared, some might not trust other people, right. You know, it’s just different things.
But the willingness for the community and those that run the community as leaders to support the…differently abled…is astounding.
[Sounds of agreement.]
Carrie: Yeah, I think so, too. And I think that that’s something that starts developing when Aven and her family move to Arizona. It’s outside Scottsdale, right, so yeah. That’s where they are, um, as they take over the station…
Forest: the Stage Coach Pass
[multiple people saying yeah yeah the Stage Coach Pass park]
Carrie: The little theme park that’s not quite a theme park?
Lane: I think it is. It’s themed.
[Laughter and overlapping chatter.]
Forest [through her laughter]: It’s more like a, come watch these restaurant workers that work during the day as cowboys who fake shoot each other and fake start–What would it be called? Like, a shootout?
[Agreement and laughter.]
Carrie: Yeah. Um, and that’s something we also learned from Aven, is you need to be nice to your service workers.
Forest (a bit sassily): Definitely. For sure.
Absolutely. One of the best things you could ever do is look at your person who is giving you service, no matter if you’re at a restaurant, a movie theater, an ice cream parlor, a coffee shop, at school, at work. Be nice to the people that are helping you because yeah, that’s the most–You’ll get way more out of that relationship than if you’re rude and ugly and…Just understanding in general.
Lane: Even if they give you vanilla when you ask for mint chocolate chip like Henry does every single time. You have to be nice.
Forest: We’re human, we make mistakes. We’re–
Just because we work in these places, we’re not above human. We don’t ever not make mistakes. We do make mistakes, and it happens.
[Agreement and laughter.]
Forest: Please. I’m just a–you know just be nice in general.
Carrie: Yeah. Be nice in general. Right, um. And so, there was something else I was gonna say. Now I totally spazzed…
Oh, yes! Um, you gotta reach for the stars no matter what.
Um, and that’s something Aven does because she plays soccer.
Leigh Ann: But she has to reach with her feet.
Forest: That’s it. That’s the important part.
Carrie: Yes. Um, and not only that, she plays the guitar.
In unison: With her feet!
Carrie: With her toes!
Forest: I’m like, oh! It’s amazing!
Carrie: It is amazing. It’s amazing. Um, and she actually goes up and performs at the end, which is something she didn’t want to do because she was, like, worried about people, like.
Forest: Right. But because she supports all the people around her, and because she’s so aware of what other people go through, she’s willing to put herself on that, you know, pedestal where she may not want to be and just show her abilities.
Lane: Regardless of your own abilities, you should go out and do something that you might want to do, even if it scares the hell out of you–
Lane: –because you’re capable.
Carrie: Absolutely. Um, and something, and, like…When we talk about, like, reaching for the
stars: stars don’t have to be really big, like, quote-unquote star themes.
And I’m doing big air quotes right now–
Carrie: –because one of the things for Aven is she wants to wear…
[Overlapping voices trying to find the term “spaghetti strap”.]
Carrie: Yeah, like, strappy tops, right. Um, and like, that–that theme reoccurs. Oftentimes, like, she does, um, make note in the book about, you know. She talks about what other girls in her class are wearing. Um, and she does, when she goes out to play the guitar, um, she puts on a strappy sundress–
Forest: A spaghetti top–
Carrie: A spaghetti top sundress, yes. Um, and I don’t know if y’all, like, like, read the little like…
Leigh Ann: I have the next book, yeah.
Carrie: Yeah, there’s a–there’s a second book, right.
Um, I don’t know if y’all read the preview, but Aven is in high school now.
Leigh Ann: Oh yeah.
Carrie: And on the very first day of school, right, she’s going to a school that has like 3,000 kids in it, and it’s huge.
But she goes to the first day of school, and she eats in the cafeteria, which was a big thing for her
in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus when she was in middle school, in eighth grade.
Um, she’s eating in the cafeteria with Zion. Connor’s at a different school, so it’s a little different, but she wears, um, a strappy top on the first day of school.
Forest: Oooh! Moving on up in the bravery department.
Carrie: Yes, definitely.
Leigh Ann: She doesn’t have to start all over in the next book. She’s building on.
So, if you’re intrigued so far by our 15 life lessons from the Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus: 1. You should read this book, and 2. You should read the second one.
Lane: Maybe we should.
[Laughter and agreement.]
Carrie: Um. And you could probably tell that we really love this book, and it was–for the themes
that it dealt with, the heavy themes that it dealt with, it was a really, like, lighthearted, like, um, positive approach to these things.
Um, and one of those life lessons we really liked taking away from this is that there is a difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone.
And I think Dusti Bowling wrote this so that we would be laughing with Aven and not at the situations that are occurring throughout the text.
Forest: Yeah. I think that’s a very good point.
Lane: Yeah. And humor works a lot of times when you are dealing with difficult things.
Carrie: Yes. As we know from reading the book, she loves to play pranks.
Lane: She really does, yeah.
Forest: Yes. Made things better even though they were not the best, well thought out.
Forest: They were quite funny to see how it kind of played out.
Carrie: Oh yeah! And we didn’t even think about this, but the importance of stories.
Lane: We were all in a narrative theory class last semester, and Aven loves to tell stories about how she lost her arms.
Every time someone asks, “What happened to your arms?” she comes up with this elaborate story to explain what happened.
And it was just so great to see, and it was like, “Yeah, we learned about this.” The importance of storytelling, and how that really fuels people in life in general.
Carrie: Yeah. So, thanks to Lane, we now have 16 life lessons to take away from the Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.
Carrie: Um, I think one of the things also that we can take away there is, like, you know, the importance of stories. Stories, you know, they do lots to, like, remind us as well. And one of those things that we get reminded of here in the book is that, never forget where you came from.
Forest: Also another thing I was just reminded the other day: that representation matters.
Yes. And I think that when we read stories like this, even if they’re considered, like, you know, I think this book is considered, like, a young adult novel. We’re all, like, 22 plus?
Are we 22?
[Overlapping chatter and laughter.]
Forest: We’re all 22 plus and we’re sitting here and I–We all genuinely loved this novel, and I felt like when I was reading it I connected on another level where I never expected to connect on.
And they told me it was about an armless teenager, and I was like, “Ehhh. Maybe not.” And then I read it, and I was in love.
Forest: And it’s just, representation, no matter whether we’re looking at an armless person, a deaf person, a blind person–you know, somebody who is a different ethnicity than us, a different size than us–
I think it just matters all the way around, and telling these stories is just very important in general to see the human experience. And I think everybody should know about the human experience.
Carrie: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus does that for us. Um, because, like, the title of the book comes from, like, she walks up the mountain or a
little mountain near–
Leigh Ann: And there is a hill that desperately wants to be a mountain.
Carrie: And there are animals, including Spaghetti, right.
Oh wait–17 life lessons. Be kind to animals.
Carrie: Please, please be kind to animals, even if they are not the most attractive-looking animals.
Forest: They will give you the utmost love in your life, even if they are so ugly that they are adorable.
[Laughter and agreements.]
Leigh Ann: Even if they have a growth from their head, and their name is Spaghetti. Just be kind. They’re a llama.
[Breaking down in laughter.]
Forest: I love llamas, anyway!
Carrie: So yeah, she goes up on this hill that desperately wants to be a mountain that the animals, bedraggled, walk around in circles, and on top of this is a cactus that’s very large, with many arms, which she calls a show-off. It’s over, like, 200 years old, right.
And she’s like, you know, you know, my life is an insignificant event in the life of a cactus because this cactus will still be here when I’m gone, and things like that. But I feel like you get the sense at the end of the novel when she goes back up on the mountain with Connor and Zion to see the fireworks, that while the cactus may still be there when she’s gone, her impression or her influence is not insignificant.
Forest: Yes. It’s going to leave a mark either way.
Leigh Ann: That’s why the next book is titled Momentous Events in the Life.
Carrie: Yes! It is momentous. Oh, and I hear she gets a crush in the next book, too.
[Ooh and ahhs.]
Forest: We might, I think, have to consider this for the next one?
Carrie: And I think the crush is the bad boy.
Or not well-liked, or misunderstood or something like that, I don’t know.
Forest: We all have been a misunderstood person.
Forest: We’ve all had in our lives.
Carrie: So, all right!
So now you’ve got 17 life lessons that you can take with you to be significant in your own lives of your own cacti.
Any other life lessons we need to take away from this?
Forest: Don’t be scared to be yourself. Even if yourself is the weirdest person on the whole entire planet.
Leigh Ann: Figure out how people without arms wipe their butts.
Carrie: Yes!! Please! And then tell me!
[Overlapping chatter and laughter.]
Carrie: Because I still don’t believe–If you figure it out, leave a comment!
A YouTube tutorial!
Forest: That’s our ultimate goal for this whole entire podcast.
Carrie: Lane, do you have another life event?
Lane: Um. No, not really. I would just want to, I don’t know, make a suggestion to anyone
who might be, uh, listening to this to go out and buy the book because I know that when I was reading it, like Forest, I…not really related it–related to it, but I could understand it.
And I really wished that I had been younger when I first read it because I think it really taught me how to love myself. I mean, yeah.
We’re all getting there at some point, but Aven is really just, she’s there.
Lane: I want to be Aven when I grow up!
Carrie: Right! Um, and I guess for me: Just be fearless. Be fearless, and go forward, and be awesome. Even–
Forest: On your journey.
Carrie: Yeah. All right. And with that, we are going to let you go forth!