What Death, Bullying and Kindness Taught Diana Crandall & Why You Should Reflect on Your Childhood Too
By Adunola Adeshola & Bri’Ann Stephens
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection to determine how my past has landed me where I am today. What moments from my childhood helped create the negative (and positive) patterns I see in my life right now? What personality traits did I pick up from my mother, father, and other loved ones around me that I maybe need to let go or refine a little bit more?
These questions have been hard for me to answer. They leave my head hurting – to say the least – and remind me of the less than satisfactory moments of my childhood, where parents failed me or friends betrayed me.
But after learning more about Diana Crandall, I resolved that it’s a journey down memory lane that I must continue to embrace. Diana has blazed the path before, and I believe her moments of self-reflection have aided her to become the confident, resilient, and creative woman she is today.
From balancing jobs and school at 16 to suffering the loss of her father to experiencing relentless bullying to graduating high school early, Diana has come out on the other side with pose, grace and lessons for all of us to learn.
Today, she is a writer whose work has been published in Forbes, USA Today College, Elite Daily, NBC News and many others.
I recently read a quote that said, “Vulnerability with God [and yourself] releases the power that negativity has over your life.” And, our conversation with Diana Crandall well certainly inspire you to take the first step towards vulnerability and self-reflection in your own life.
Tell us about the death of your father and how it led to you being raised alone by your mother?
My dad died from complications of multiple illnesses when I was a freshman in high school, right before the global market crashed.
He had been sick in the years before, so mom was really on her own from the time I was 10 or so, and she raised my two brothers and I in the best possible way she knew how (which I think was incredible). She moved us into a house on the edge of a forest in Central Ohio so we could play in the creek and on the sidewalks in the summer.
She encouraged us in our passions, always watching movies and reading books with us. We had the most beautiful golden retriever. Mom worked so incredibly hard to make us feel loved and supported, and we were.
Growing up, how was life being raised by a single mom?
It’s interesting, because I didn’t learn what a “nuclear family” is until I was older. I just thought that was how it went – you had a mom who worked, and you made sure you were home for dinner at 6:30 p.m. (and the kitchen better be clean before you hear the garage door go up).
I wouldn’t change it for the world, but at times, things were hard. Mom’s salary was modest. Even two parents drop the ball sometimes – with one, it was hard on her, and hard on us. She didn’t have any time for herself, and she worked long hours.
We had to mind ourselves after school, and my brothers and I had a pretty significant age gap, so they were both off to college by the time I was in fifth grade. A lot of years we lived paycheck to paycheck.
I had a very difficult time with bullying in junior high, and I had to switch from a public to a charter school in an area that didn’t have bussing. She used to have to drive me to school every day until I could get a license; even before then, I was working as a telemarketer, then a waitress.
We all did what we had to do, but it didn’t start to get really difficult until 2008. Shortly after my dad died in the Spring, mom was laid off, and we realized we were going to lose the house for good. The financial crisis complicated things.
Did you face any insecurities in school because of your living situation?
Yes, although I didn’t face the worst of it. It wasn’t until I was in the tail end of high school that we really knew we had to get out. Several of my friends had far more volatile living situations and had to sleep on each other’s couches.
My mom always made sure our home was open to them when they needed somewhere to stay. At the time, that was controversial to some people. But without ever saying a word, she taught me so much about kindness.
Even after she was laid off, she always had a warm meal and a smile for my friends.
And even though they had divorced a decade earlier, when my dad was ill, she still did everything she could to take care of him, even though she didn’t have to. That type of kindness leaves a long, lasting impression on a kid.
Why was graduating early so important to you and how did you get your high school to agree?
Despite some of the adversity I faced, I still possessed (and certainly have today) a lot of privilege. I had strong women in my life who set incredible examples; in addition to my mom, my dad’s sister was instrumental in helping me become who I am today.
They both are astounding women. They taught me that if I developed my brain and used my intelligence to propel myself forward, that was something that no one could ever take away from me. To the best of my ability, I viewed the circumstances around me as temporary and situational. A 4-year university degree represented freedom and independence to me. I became obsessed with it.
As for graduating a year early, it’s important to note that the circumstances were unusual. The bullying was relentless, and it made my teenage years really difficult. The charter school I transferred to – it’s called ACPA – they worked with me and my family every step of the way, giving me free grief counseling after my dad died, then encouraged me to combine courses, utilize online school, and take the state tests when I asked to mesh my junior and senior years into one.
I didn’t do as well on the tests as I would’ve if I waited. I was only 16 and working at a breakfast diner when I took the state exam. But combined with my grades, it was enough to get more than $100,000 in scholarship money.
My school counselor worked with me to prepare me for college. I had a counselor outside of school, too. Children and teenagers need support when their traditional framework either doesn’t exist or starts to crumble. I wouldn’t be where I am today without mine.
I have to say: To this day, I can’t think of a feeling more powerful than the one I had the moment I raced into my house with a massive envelope from my top school – a local college called Capital University – in hand. The first thing I saw on the inside were two words: You’re In. The letter inside detailed the scholarship money. It brought me to my knees. I knew in that moment that everything in my life from that point forward would be different, and I was right.
Did you always want to become a writer? Where did your inspiration come from?
Yes. When I was a kid, my mom was a working journalist, and some of my earliest memories are of us reading and writing together. I was six when Harry Potter started to go mainstream, and that series became the crux of my childhood.
Meanwhile, for those first few years of my life, my dad took me exploring in the woods. It was always an adventure to go fishing or hunting, to climb up trees or to sit still in the wilderness for hours. When I got a little older, and things became harder, writing and storytelling became an escape. I wrote my first novella at fourteen, then wrote several dozen short stories and poems after that.
I didn’t realize it until years later, but my parent’s passions merged together and sort of morphed into what’s now my career path; I pursued storytelling professionally with an M.S. in journalism from USC, where I focused my master’s thesis on environmental reporting. Their passions, which became mine, became the basis for the novel I’m working on.
You're currently working on a book. Tell us more about your book, when it'll be available for purchase, and where can we purchase it?
I am so excited about this book! This is a young adult fantasy fiction novel that takes place in a world where human-made climate change is threatening the existence of mermaids.
A young man poking around for questions about his mother’s death is ripped from the ocean’s surface and plunged into the middle of an underwater kingdom grappling with pollution, warming waters, and a sinister royal family. I can’t say more yet!
It’s been such a challenge and joy to write. I’m workshopping some of my final drafts with other authors this summer so I can begin the process of making final edits and begin pitching to publishers later this year. Date and location for purchase TBA!
So fascinating! Do you have any advice for girls struggling with their situations while in high school?
I could write another novel just about this.
Yes. You are valuable. The things you are feeling are valid and real, but you’re not going to feel this way forever. People can be mean, they will misunderstand and misrepresent you, and being a girl is hard. People will try and extinguish your light and passion and essence; battle this darkness by finding women you look up to in areas you are passionate about.
We have walked in your footsteps and are here to support you and lift you up. You are not weird or a freak or alone, and you are not defined by your environment or circumstances.
Use social media and the internet to give you power; it can help you find resources and inspiration. We’re all out here waiting to help you come into your own.