Category Archives: Fiction

ISBN-13: 978-0544003415

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

There’re a few things I have to talk about before I launch into a digressive blog about Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. The first is to address my online absence. I’ve been away from the blogging sphere over the holidays, but fear not, for I’ve still been reading, writing, thinking, and traveling. In fact, I’m in Chicago now, at the Common Cup in Rogers Park, forcing myself to write this blog when I’d much rather write a new short story.

Can I say that I love Rogers Park? The rent here is dirt cheap, which may explain my cousin’s toilet—it is literally hobbit sized. I have aptly dubbed it Rumplestiltskin’s throne. And yeah, her apartment got broken into once, and uh, it is a four-story walk up, and nocturnal critters live in the walls and freak me out when I’m trying to sleep on the futon, but the place has a faux fireplace and is steps away from the lake! Public art is everywhere. I passed a sculpture of a Monarch butterfly erected from four bike frames on the way to this coffee shop. And okay, so every other storefront along the Red Line is vacant, but amazing smells (pizza anyone?) and interesting people (DANCERS!) fill the windows of the small business that are here. This neighborhood is ripe for artists and students. Just carry mace and be sure to write in your Aldermen’s name on the election ballot…

Second, I’ve utterly failed at my original goal of the blog, which was to read all the books I own without buying or renting anything new, unless it was for research. Just how bad off am I? Well, on Thursday I checked out four library books, and yesterday, I bought another. Technically all five of these books fall under research, but I still harbor a small bit of guilt about them. Key word being small. On the other hand, I recently sold a whole mess of books I’d either read or realized I would never have time to read, at least not in this decade. I can’t explain how hard it was to stand in the bookstore while they checked over my order and not buy something else with my thirty dollar refund.

Now, without a smooth transition or further delay—Lord of the Rings: one of the worst reading experiences I have ever had in my life. Allow me to explain.

It’s one of Husband’s books, but being how it was in the household and I am writing a fantasy saga I thought it would be an important read. A lot of famous writers, people I trust and respect, rave about the trilogy. It can be career altering. There’s top-notch characterization and imagery. Varied sentences. Epic battle scenes. Normally I make it a point to never say anything bad about books. But.

 

But.

But.

But.

 

To be honest, reading this book was equivalent to striking my head on the wall seventeen hundred times and then being locked in an elevator with Michael Bolton blaring uncomfortably loud on the Muzak and a two-year old that hasn’t napped…all week.  One day I spent seven hours—seven hours—reading forty pages.

This was me reading LOTR

This was me reading LOTR

I can’t find any reason for that much exposition. It took everything in me not to take a pen to the thing and start cutting and chopping all the unnecessary. Why does almost every character have to have a confusing name? I mean, honestly, dude why do your two antagonists have like, practically the same name? Ask me if I care what land this tribe of people are from or what absurd lineage they have or what allies they had seven thousand years ago. Husband told me to just skim or read ahead, but I’m not that type of reader. I had to make myself go over every single sentence in that book. In order. No glossing. No skimming. Except for the songs and poems. I seriously just skipped those. Italics? I think not.

Give me more elves.

And Lord please, why are there only three women in the book? Two are strong, so that’s a plus. But. But. But. One of the strong female leads only goes into battle because she’s in love with a dude, and then she throws down her sword to get married. I mean, WTF. And the other strong female lead just gives the heroes gifts to help in battle. What’s the point of that? It’s like, you set up this bad ass chick only to make her give the male leads like a bottle of star dust, excuse me, starlight and a bag of seeds. Really? Really? Because she could have put the wreck to that Sauron.

And, yeah, if you’re gonna write an evil villain and basically give him no screen time, what’s the point? He’s just a vague puppet master. I read over a thousand pages in itty-bitty font and still had no real clue about the guy. He was just there. And bad. One-dimensional bad.

But whatever. It’s a hero’s journey story. I get it. Back to my Joseph Campbell notes, I guess.

Making matters worse, all the books were bound into one big hardcover copy. Lugging that thing around gave me a backache, and I had to be real careful with it since it was one of Husband’s most prized possessions. That meant no dog earing, no eating while reading, no picking my nose and wiping the buggers on the cover, being careful with the spine, no tea drinking near it. No leaving it open on the coffee table without being scolded to use a bookmark.

You may be underestimating Husband’s love of the tale at this point. Please don’t do that. He has an exact replica of Gandolf’s sword hanging on his bedroom wall at his parent’s house. It was his favorite Christmas gift of all time. He told me he went to see the movies in the theater like twelve times or something; I wasn’t really listening. I made the mistake of watching one of the movies with him. This led to a nonstop quoting marathon on his end and a “it didn’t happen that way in the book” whine fest from me. Also,he paused the movie several times to explain bonus features—

Aragorn’s scream sound realistic? That’s because Viggeo Mortensen broke his foot kicking that helmet! It was real metal. See that banner over there? The one that just flew off? That really happened and Peter Jackson just went with it! It was a windy filming day.

Well, I hate to tell you, but no banner flew off in the book. I remain unimpressed. No offense but can we get some collaboration with Guillermo del Toro on some of these monsters? Orks and Uruk-hai sort of look the same to me. But, you know, the casting was spot on for the whole. So there’s that. I dug Gollum.

He was a book highlight. Wins the most interesting character award. Not gonna say anything about how a supporting / secondary character has more depth than the antagonist. No, I won’t talk about that here.

Nor will I mention, you know, that action chapter that takes place after the climax. That’s not misplaced or anything. I bet JRRT was like, ha, these fools have already suffered through a thousand pages of my writing, why wrap things up efficiently after the climax? Why not roll on for another few thousand words and add in another battle, just ‘cuz. I been to war! I don’t care about the rules of commercialism!

I wanted to full on like this book. I wanted to love it. I wanted to place it proudly on my shelf next to the other really influential books I’ve read, and maybe I still should if only to remind myself not to go on for thousands of pages about stuff that isn’t important to the story. I feel criminal for writing a blog post like this. But, I mean, when I had to pretend that Aragorn was Amazon, king of the booksellers, and fantasize he was ravaging small businesses instead of small towns, there’s something wrong with the book. I won’t tell you all the nicknames I made up for the characters and the more amusing plot lines I devised for them. Clearly there were multiple reasons for me taking seven hours to read forty pages…

And in fairness I liked the setting descriptions. I felt comfortable in the worlds, was never confused, and felt like JRRT knew a lot more than he was letting on. I took notes on Shadowfax.

 

But.

But.

But.

 

I just didn’t get it. A thousand something pages is too much for me to handle in one long read, if only for the fact that my bird like wrists simply cannot hold half a tree for several hours at a time. Which is why the next book I am reading is slim at 96 pages and that includes the preface, forward, notes, and glossary. Plus, I own it, so butt scratching and page turning can occur consecutively without worry.

 

*Being that I am traveling, this is not the ISBN number or book cover that I used. These are generic stand-ins taken from the internet.

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Filed under Books, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Literature, Non Fiction, Writing

ISBN: 978-0-545-58293-3

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I like to try new things, which means I’m often susceptible to well-meaning suggestions or new health fads. Last month someone told me if I drank a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar in eight ounces of water each morning, my acne would clear up. I held my nose and dutifully chugged the concoction every day for a week without seeing any results. It tasted worse than Kombucha, even after adding a teaspoon of honey to the mixture.

I see the dermatologist this Wednesday…

Right: disgusting apple cider vinegar Left: water with chia seeds

Right: disgusting apple cider vinegar Left: water with chia seeds

Then there were the magical chia seeds that supposedly helped one lose weight by making them feel fuller, thus requiring one to eat less. Just a handful of seeds spread over one’s meal, put in yogurt, or added to water, should work instantly. The seeds could be found in higher end grocery/health food stores in the bulk section, but beware – they’re expensive at $18.99 a pound (I didn’t realize this and dumped a full scoop into a bag). It turns out they don’t taste like anything. I love the texture they add to water; they remind me of little tapioca balls. Unfortunately, I never felt any fuller after trying them.

I now have a new gym membership and a workout partner. We meet on Mondays and Wednesdays…

Oh yes, and then there were the skin care remedies. If someone told you that coconut oil, bought in the cooking section of the grocery store would moisturizer your skin and make you smell like an Almond Joy, would you try it? What if the person was your best friend? If the same best friend suggested you try exfoliation with a green and yellow pot scrubber, would you give that a go, too?

IMG_2162Maybe I got the wrong type of oil, but I didn’t smell like any dang Almond Joy. And I felt slippery. Ick. I’m sticking with coco butter, but the pot scrubber works, if you soak in the tub first and lightly rub your skin…

In the spirit of trying new things, I signed up for a yearlong DBT therapy program to learn life skills that would help me avoid future manic and depressive episodes. The program consists of group therapy, which lasts for three hours each week, one hour of individual therapy also weekly, and daily journaling, tracking exercises, and homework.

According to the handouts from my treatment program facility, Healing Connections, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a type of behavioral therapy. Developed in the early 1990’s by Dr. Marsha Linehan, the goal of therapy is to reduce all types of dysregulation, from emotional to behavioral to relationship. Dr. Linehan first created the program for patients dealing with borderline symptoms and traits, but many therapists found the skills helpful for everyone.

The difference between the Prairie Care program I participated in earlier this year and DBT, is that DBT therapy is that it is behavioral orientated, as opposed to cognitive. This means therapists teach patients a variety of skills to employ in life without the focus on connecting distressing/unhealthy behaviors with their thoughts and feelings. So, it’s behavior based as opposed to thought.

On my first day, my new therapist gave me a huge five-section binder with Life Skills Daily Tracker sheets that had over 61 different life skills to mark. My therapist and I created an individualized plan to track additional behaviors like hours spent writing, working out, and sleeping that were not listed on the worksheets.

DBT daily tracker

DBT daily tracker

The first hour and a half of group session requires everyone to check-in, that is, summarize his or her week. During this time, other members of the group share which skills they heard being used by the patient. The following hour and a half consists of therapist-guided education. A time in which therapists discuss and teach the skills listed in the tracker.

Over the past five weeks, my group focused on the Distress Tolerance section. These skills help one, “tolerate and survive crises and accept life as it is.” So far I’ve tried chair yoga, blew bubbles, went for a walk, stared at a star light on the ceiling, practiced deep inhales and exhales, and stood outside for ten minutes to engage my four senses (touch, sight, smell, & hear – they didn’t want us eating in the parking lot). These exercises were part of the education portion of the program.

I can’t really imagine blowing bubbles in time of a crisis, but I could imagine taking deep breaths the next time I’m at the checkout and something rings up for an inordinate amount of money.

I couldn’t help thinking of how much Harry Potter could use the Distress Tolerance section. I mean, just think of how many crises he needs to survive and tolerate…

In spirit of the check-in, these are the skills from the Distress Tolerance section Harry used in his third year at Hogwarts (some book spoilers):

IMG_2165

Self-Soothe: sooth each of the five senses: Harry uses his sense of taste by eating chocolate after dementor attacks. Anything that soothes you can work. Taking a bath, for example, may appeal to the sense of touch in the water. Listening to an audio recording of the rain is another example.

One Thing: As opposed to worrying over all of his problems at once, Harry focuses on one thing, his lessons with Lupin, to learn how to keep the dementors at bay.

Distract: move away from misery: I would say his trip to Hogsmead was a bit of distraction from fretting over the dangerous criminal posing a threat to his life. This distraction keeps Harry from wallowing in his misery.

Accept Reality: you don’t have to like it: Harry accepts reality each time the dementors  force him to hear his mother’s last dying scream.

Pros And Cons: problem solve: Harry solves the problem of getting to Hogsmead without a permission slip. Although, he doesn’t break his problems down on paper the way I’m taught in therapy and he doesn’t spend too much time weighing the cons of his plan.

Vacation: brief time-out: I’d say Quidditch falls under this category. In therapy, a brief time out is exactly what it sounds like – taking a set amount of time to do something you want to do as a respite from misery or life. Other examples are watching a movie or reading a book for an hour.

Just look at all the skills Harry uses! No wonder he’s a hero.

Other skills from the distress tolerance section most people use every day without even realizing it are Breathe, Walk, Smile, Prayer, and Relaxation. I found that I used Imagery each night before bed. By visualizing a blossomed cherry tree slowing swaying in a breeze, I’m able to fall asleep faster and let each of my problems float away like the petals that drift off in the wind.

Although I’ve been known to laugh awkwardly when something goes horribly wrong, I still can’t imagine Smiling when, say, my dog dies. I can, however, take Imagery to an even higher level. Instead of only using the skill at night, I use it during the day to visualize locking up problems in a box or a filing cabinet and setting them aside for a time when I can deal with each of them without being overwhelmed.

So what’s the verdict for DBT therapy? It’s a better idea than trying celery-flavored soda, that’s for sure.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray celery flavored soda.

Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray celery flavored soda. Tastes like sugar flavored celery

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 978-1-61219-194-2

I Await The Devil's Coming by Mary MacLane

I Await The Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane

This post is part of a blog hop, which must be part of an E-version of a chain letter. Sarah Turner, author of Sarah In Small Doses, asked me to take part in a writing process blog tour. I agreed, but decided not to ask anyone else to do it. A part of me fears that by breaking the blog hop I may inadvertently bring nine years bad luck upon myself, suffer a broken leg, a case of hives, a love lost—or gasp—spill barbecue sauce on my favorite summer dress. Not to tempt fate or anything, but I like to live dangerously. Plus, I’m too lazy to E-mail someone else.

I Await The Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane has a rather dangerous-looking cover doesn’t it? That’s why I bought it. I originally passed it up, reminding myself that I already had hundreds of books at home that I hadn’t yet read. Several weeks later, the striking portrait of that Lizzy Borden looking woman was still stuck in my head, so I returned and purchased the paperback.

Back to the blog hop. According to the chain letter, I’m supposed to answer four questions. So here goes.

1)    What am I working on?

Thanks for asking. I’m currently working on a young adult novel series that has one of the most badass female protagonists ever, only she doesn’t know that, at least not right away. There’s nothing like an epic story line to help build confidence and chase a way a severe case of modesty.

2)    How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I love this question because I think it’s really, really, important that artists continually ask ourselves this as we work. I have to separate my answer into two parts. The part first is about my growth as a writer.

When I started working on the last draft of my novel, I had  the great stories in my head—The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etcetera. I kept asking myself, what made those stories so good? Why did they work? Why did I care, and why did they stand the test of time? The answer was that they were unique. They were totally newly imagined concepts.

This idea hit me literally the week I came across, “The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar.” Number twelve on the list struck me the most:Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. When these two ideas clicked for me, it was like I finally gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted on the page, and no, ordinary solutions and ordinary predicaments that protagonists find themselves in weren’t going to work for my story. The things that had already been done before were holding me back. So I cut them and went into “me” mode.

And for the second part of the answer, as far as I can tell, love stories and dystopian fiction are hot now and there’s a war train rumbling right through the middle schools as we speak. Our generation is pushing anti-war fiction pretty hard, and I’m in agreement with that.

My book is a bit of a spin on the anti-war / love themes, but I draw most of the material from my experiences with mental illness. It’s set in modern times, with some, well, minor otherworldly adjustments. But you won’t find ghosts, or vampires, aliens, or magic in this book. What I’m creating is something entirely new.

I don’t want to give too much away—I’m saving the juicy bits for my query letters next fall. Those otherworldly adjustments, the unique meat of my story, layer in with reality to create this world that possibly could exist…

3)    Why do I write what I do?

First, I can’t not. Second, most of the reasons for my themes of love and war are too personal to get into in a blog post now. But the main answer is that I volunteer with youth who struggle with major issues like abuse, homelessness, and mental illness. As we all know from this blog, I also struggled with several of those issues when I was younger, too. I wanted to create something that could inspire kids who maybe don’t have the best situation at home. I wanted to create something that say someone struggling with depression or mania or anxiety could read and truly feel like they aren’t alone in that war.

4) How does your writing process work?

It varies depending on what I’m working on. For short stories, I keep a running log of jokes or things that make me laugh and when I get enough jokes I’ll sit down for a weekend and write a draft of a story using as many of those as possible. Then I let it sit in my computer forever before I decide to read it again and tweak it. The time I wrote a screenplay I went online and wrote a treatment of it first. Working from the treatment, I wrote the first draft in a little more than a month and a half.

What I try to do is create a schedule with weekly deadlines that I have to meet. I don’t get down to how much time I’ll work each day, but I make sure I meet my goals and reward myself when I hit big ones.

So there it is. Blog hop. It occurs to me this is the paragraph where I somehow tie all of this in with MacLane. I have nothing on this. Literally there is no way I can think to tie these things together. I would just like to say this, MM really judged her readers, and she lived under the pressure of their imagined constant judgment. On every page I was like, “girl I ‘ain’t judging you. Not judging at all.” And I want to point it out how that is a really paralyzing way to live a life, nineteen years old or not. At least she knew she was genius in this not so modest memoir. It’s interesting to think that if MM were alive today she technically would be part of my target audience…

 

 

 

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Filed under Fiction, Life, Literature, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN 978-0-545-5892-6

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and I have two things in common; we both have lightening bolt scars and exceptional educations. Luckily for me, my scar runs jagged down my knee, and my education only took seven weeks to complete.

At the beginning of the year, I attended Prairie Care, an adult intensive outpatient program that provided me with ninety minutes of group therapy and ninety minutes of psychoeducation five days a week. I chose to attend Prairie Care because my treatment plan for bipolar disorder has never been focused on drug therapy alone. I found that I needed both community and additional talk therapy to help me tackle some of the larger issues that fueled past episodes.

Aside from providing endless material for short stories, school for the bipoles, or rehab as I fondly call it, taught me additional life strategies that can be helpful even for those who don’t live with a mental disorder. This is why I’m combining each of the Harry Potter books with one of the skills I learned at Prairie Care for the next seven posts.

Today’s topic is journaling.

One would think as a writer I would be totally stoked to scribble to my hearts content in a small notebook. One would be wrong.

Last summer, I kept an electronic journal. In it, I typed as fast as my fingers could go in stream of consciousness style. It outlined story ideas, dreams, and an internal monologue of doom. This was the most cathartic journaling experience I ever had…

That is until “people” started screwing with me.

If that sounds vague and ominous, it is. My highly creative mind imagined that “others” were reading my journal for the specific purpose of messing with me. Others? You may be asking yourself. Who? The same others  that pestered Nicole Kidman? I can’t tell you who the people were BECAUSE I DIDN’T LET MY MIND GO THAT FAR. I’m not supposed to let my mind get carried away, not when I can control my thinking and can reasonably question things that seem impossible. So I can’t tell you who was screwing with me or why they’d want to mess with me, but I can tell you one of the things that happened.

FK

I had recently written about a therapy experience in my e-journal where my therapist had said “nightmare” and I was derailed for the entirety of the session. Upon hearing the word, I instantly saw a picture of Freddy Krueger in my head, and then I couldn’t focus on another single word without seeing his claws. A day or two after writing that entry, I went to BigLots!  with my cousin and saw a Freddy Krueger box set near the checkout. Small coincidences have a tendency to rev up my brain and freak me out. This is why I swore to God someone was reading my journal and they put Freddy right next to the checkout to mess with me. In my mind, someone was part of the “others.” The others weren’t malicious; they just had an odd sense of humor.

And ever since, I have sworn not to keep a diary.

Therapists at Prairie Care urged me to journal, and they had good reason. The practice has multiple benefits—it can be a place of gratitude to honor wishes and dreams, a place to reinforce positive experiences, a safe place to be open and honest, or a place to blow off steam and begin the healing process.

Prairie care therapists gave me several handouts that included these tips for journaling:
1. Write whatever comes to mind.
2. Write quickly without paying attention to grammar or spelling.
3. Don’t erase.
4. Give yourself permission to be absolutely honest.
5. Focus on the process and not the product.
6. Remember there are no stupid feelings or ideas.
7. Stuck? Brainstorm with lists.

They also gave me guided journaling handouts with these exercises:
1. Write or draw one comfortable feeling and one uncomfortable feeling you’ve had today.
2. Write about behaviors you need to hold onto and behaviors that get in the way of your mental health.
3. Draw or write one concept or new idea that has been useful to your mental health.
4. Write a positive affirmation.
5. Write or draw about a part of yourself.
6. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself. Imagine someone you truly respect is writing the letter to you. This can be someone you know or even a fictional character.
7. Write about a peaceful place that makes you feel calm.
8. Write about a time when you relieved your emotional tension in a safe and useful way.
9. Write a letter to yourself when you were younger and a letter to yourself in twenty years.
10. Pick something you are proud of and write about the feelings people or situations connected to this source of pride.

Even with all of these tips and positive reasons for journaling, I still found myself hesitant to start a journal again, and became borderline argumentative with Prairie Care Therapists.

PCT: You should keep a journal.
ME: DID ANYONE READ THIS HARRY POTTER BOOK?? REMEMBER TOM’S JOURNAL? REMEMBER HIS JOURNAL?!!!??
PCT: You can rip it up or burn it when you’re done.
ME: Tell me more…

With a bit of group therapy and work with my individual therapist, I came to the conclusion that my funny imagining—that everyone could read my journal—stemmed from a childhood experience where my parents actually did read my private journal. Somehow that childhood humiliation and mortification had morphed into an irrational fear that prevented me from partaking in an activity I once enjoyed.

After identifying the true root of my fear, I found that I could journal again. When something reminded me of my imagining, I had to do my best to relax and tell myself it wasn’t real. That wasn’t easy, so what I did was devise a mental list of ten things that were worth my mental effort. My list encompassed the banal ‘what will I eat for dinner’ to grand sweeping plot twists of my next novel. When my mind became tasked with those matters, I’d forget all about what spooked me.

In short, journaling is an easy, low-cost, healthy outlet anyone can benefit from. I recommend pasting a picture of something you think would look fantastic when it burns on your journal’s cover. Tossing into a fire is going to be a heck of a lot easier than finding a Basilisk fang. Just sayin’.

 

*I found Freddy Here

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Fiction, Funny, humor, Life, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 10-7435-5432-9

 

Cell by Stephen King

Cell by Stephen King

 

If anyone wonders where I’ve been all summer, I’d love to say that I’ve been vacationing in the French Rivera. I have no idea where that is on a map. I don’t even know what it looks like, but I’ve heard it’s a sexy place to vacation. In reality I’ve been taking down wallpaper. All summer. My kitchen smells like Suavitel. And sweat. I also had a pit stop in New Orleans and got hit in the face by some beads. I stood up in a wedding in Chicago. I ate some goat. Went on a few trips to the farm; the honeybees are back. I attended a baby shower where the favor was a cd called, Scotch and Vinyl Dust Volume 1. There was a trip to the zoo wherein a really old seal put on a show. I got an idea for a story about an eccentric philanthropist. Went to a fringe show about a big eye that was supposed to be funny but made me cry, as I really connected with the depression part of the show. I dry fired my bow and got a bruise on my arm. Bob Segar made me fall off my bike. I wrote a draft of a story about a giant squid. I went to another wedding where I discovered that if you chug caffeine free diet coke and don’t let it touch the front of your tongue it almost tastes like coke diesel. I thought I broke the third wall, but discovered it was the fourth wall.

But mostly it’s been me vs. wallpaper.

I listened to Cell by Stephen King on cassette tape while I stripped the wallpaper. Yes, cassette tape. Sometime back I wandered into a Boarders with E and asked the clerk where the books on tape were. The clerk gave me a funny look, led me to a shelf, and said all they had were about four books.

Quite a small audio section, I thought. Must be why you’re going out of business Boarders.

Cell was on sale for maybe six bucks. That’s the best thing about SK books. They’re everywhere and all seem to cost under five dollars. Six dollars for an audiobook is a steal. This is what happened when I got to my car after the purchase:

ME: It’s a tape!

E: Yeah.

ME: I thought it was going to be a CD.

E: You asked for a book on tape.

It wasn’t until this year that I found a tape player at the farm. The farm has a variety of strange things, like copper colored Jell-O molds in the shape of fish that sometimes end up in my dreams. I began to listen to the story as I stripped the wallpaper. I was something like half a wall in when the tape stopped. Apparently the player overheated. The next day, I was a third of a wall in when the tape player made this horrible slow motion noise. E-gads! Was it eating SK? No, the tape was fine, but rewind didn’t work. Near the end of the wallpaper, and the end of the book, I got the fine idea to purchase a Walkman from a thrift store for the sum of a dollar-fifty. The Walkman didn’t work either. I changed the batteries.

One may want to know more about Cell, but I’d rather tell readers about the most important part of my summer.

I volunteer with Free Arts Minnesota , an organization that promotes healing through art. I could include their mission statement here, but I’d rather share my experience.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I have bipolar disorder, and that I sometimes allude to a complicated and tangled past that includes neglect and abuse. What may not be entirely clear is the role art has played throughout my life as a way to cope with such events and transform them into something beautiful and meaningful that I can share with the world. I didn’t have the most ideal living situation when growing up, but what I did have was a strong support system filled with people who provided positive role models for me. These people were teachers, friends, social workers, extended family, and total strangers. Everyone seemed to move in and out of my life exactly when I needed them, providing me with hope, care, understanding, compassion, and good advice.

I speak openly about my experiences, in coffee houses, on the bus, over the cell phone, on a blog because I think there’s a lot of shame associated with these circumstances. Sometimes I feel like I make others nervous, as if these are things we shouldn’t talk about. Other times I think the shame and nervousness are only my own.

A friend sent me the link for Free Arts via Facebook. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass. Here was a chance for me to become a role model for children dealing with many of the same issues I had to struggle with growing up.

I don’t exactly have the mentor thing down yet: I told one kid that I liked the breadsticks from Olive Garden instead of giving some sage advice. I told another that her ‘D’ was backwards when it wasn’t. I forget names. When another threw a pen across the room, I didn’t know how to say the pen can do far more damage in your hand instead of thrown. And when another shared a personal story with me, it struck me later how I could have told her to use her art the moment things get bad and not after.

I can’t tell you how one child has impacted me in particular because they all changed me in some way.

This summer the children had the opportunity to work with a local artist, Natasha Pestich. They screen printed hoodies in the theme of identity. Their work will be displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art next Thursday, August 22nd, at 6 PM.

If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and have a few hours to spare each week, I think you should consider becoming a volunteer. I’d also suggest making a donation through their website.

And so, the summer comes close to an end. The wallpaper is down. Under The Dome is on just in time for me to start painting. I’m starting Finnegan’s Wake and the State Fair will soon begin.

But there are still a few nights left to watch the lightening bugs come out, flickering on and off in a reminder that my life has been and always will be an intersection of those who change me.

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ISBN 0-394-51602-8

Collected Stories Frank O'Connor

Collected Stories Frank O’Connor

 

I only read nineteen pages of Collected Stories Frank O’Connor because I happened upon “The Bridal Night” and shortly thereafter began to pout. The pouting turned to sulking, the sulking to depression. Welcome to the world of bipolar.

I read this: Around the headland came a boat and the heavy dipping of its oars was like a heron’s flight. I got excited. I hunkered down into my mind, ready to be pulled away from reality. I had once described rowing as, “a soft stroke of sound,” but the bird thing was so much better. I pounded my fist against my desk. How do good writers do this?

Then came the story. It was about a crazy man. It was complex and done with such an even hand that I started to laugh. Something unhinged in my mind. I imagined the story as if it were written from each character’s point of view, and ah-ha! I had solved a technical problem I was having in another project I was working on.

The only problem was that this imagining triggered the darkness.

Thanks for messing me up Michael O’Donovan*.

My depressive thinking started out small: I’ll never be that good of a writer. And morphed into: What is the point of life?

I tried explaining this to Husband.

ME: Let’s put science aside for just a moment. Let’s think of mania, and a break with reality on the very simplest level. I have amazeballs ideas when I am crazy. The only problem was that I believed they were real. If I had such amazeballs ideas when I was sane and didn’t believe they were true then I’d just be considered creative. Perhaps even interesting. The only thing that ties man to God is belief. I’m having some serious issues with belief right now, so can you see how this would lead to a “crisis of faith”?

Husband stared at me.

ME: Say something.

Husband: God gave me two ears and one mouth. I think we should go to bed now.

Something like three days later, I was still sulking, probably more like brooding. This is when my Sassy-Man-Hating-Chain-Smoking-Polish-Best-Friend showed up.

SMHCSPBF: Get out of bed you sad betch.

ME: There is no point. Just so you know, that’s the depression talking.

SMHCSPBF: We’re going to a concert.

I agreed to get up because I didn’t want SMHCSPBF ashing on my sheets. When we got to First Ave, and the first act came on stage we stared at each other. In a crowd of hundreds of people, no one moved. Minus one man who was solo fist pumping it near the front. He must not have been a Minnesota native.

ME: Awe man, this is like a Catholic mass. Is this the band?

SMHCSPBF: It’s Enya rock.

Whatever. I went with it. At least it wasn’t a musical. Maybe it was the secondhand weed**, but I started to zone out like I do at yoga. There was no sound, just the sound of my heartbeat. I started thinking of all of the other heartbeats in the same room. I started to understand why so many people enjoy those long and dreary masses.

SMHCSPBF snapped her fingers in front of my face.

SMHCSPBF: Let’s go.

ME: It’s just that I think of the birds in the wetlands near my house, or deer, or my cats or any other creature and I look at them and I don’t know if they believe they have a singular soul. Do they always and forever want to be a deer or a bird? Would I always want to stay human and know the world only from this place? I don’t see myself as any better than them or even very different. Can someone just tell me the point to life? What if after this, we no longer exist? It doesn’t seem fair that a deity would create this just to test you. That’s a very manmade concept.  Can someone just tell me why we do this?

SMHCSPBF: I need to double my SSRI because of you.

ME: Am I starting to sound like a poet?

SMHCMPBF shrugged: What would I know. I’m a step away from buying a pair of Birkenstocks and moving to Costa Rica.

When driving SMHCSPBF back to the airport, we passed a cemetery.

ME: All the gravestones look exactly the same. There’s no gender. No race. No religion. Just the mark of someone who once lived. It’s so easy to see in death. Why can’t it be like that in life? I didn’t want to say anything because I think it’s the depression talking.

SMHCSPBF: I was looking at them too. Men created war. Not women.

I tried explaining all this to my therapist.

T: Do you need to know the meaning of life?

ME: No. But I need to talk about it.

T: I think maybe you think about these other things so you don’t have to deal with other problems in your life.

Later I made pancakes for dinner and sobbed as I cracked the eggs into the bowl. Darkness had fallen over the Atlantic, blank gray to its farthest reaches. I laughed because the subtext was absurd. I laughed, not because I’m bipolar and a second ago I was crying, I laughed because I’m human. I tried to hold it together through dinner.

Husband: You just got to fight depression. If you know you have sad thoughts then don’t give in to them.

He pushed the last of his dinner aside, apparently no longer hungry.

ME: Oh yeah? Eat that last pancake, Midwest. You can’t leave the dinner table until you clean your plate.

H: Fine, you’re right.

He stuffed the last pancake into his mouth.

Last week I had a lot of trouble getting out of bed. My mind took me to very dark places. I understood the appeal for some of drugs and alcohol. Escape. I understood why some are attracted to thoughts of suicide. Escape. For the first time since the creation of the blog, I missed a week.

I’m trying to do this the right way, but going to the gym, doing yoga, quitting caffeine and alcohol just weren’t enough. No one could tell me what I learned for myself last week.

I needed to be on a mood stabilizer full time.

When I realized this, it felt like resignation.

But then I thought of Husband shoving that pancake into his mouth out of pure Midwestern grit and pride, and I realized I was fighting.

If this life is all I have, all I’ll ever be, I don’t want to spend it sad. Cynical yes, but not sad. Not so depressed that I question the meaning of all this, or I start avoiding interactions with others because I am scared to let them see me cry.

I used to believe that I was alone in all of this. Now I know I am not. Maybe it’s a good thing I have some serious issues with belief.

There would no words come to me, and we sat there, the three of us, over our tea, and I declare for the time being I felt ‘twas worth it all, all the troubles of his birth and rearing and all the lonesome years ahead.    

And I’ve got 682 pages to go.

 

*Frank O’Connor was his pen name.

**Thanks Minneapolis. I’m trying to live a sober life.

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FOLK SONGS OF ENGLAND, IRELAND, SCOTLAND AND WALES*

Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales selected and edited by William Cole

Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales selected and edited by William Cole

This post almost didn’t happen this week because I got sucked into the void called VHI’s 80s videos during my workout. What ever happened to Sade? I can’t get enough of that saxophone . . .

This book is not part of my collection. I checked it out from the library. I consider it falling under the ‘necessary research’ category for a never-ending project I am working on. I only read the section about Ireland. Sorry England, Scotland and Wales.

Every time I turn to song or poetry, I always seem to find that people are crooning about either love or war. It’s as if there’s nothing else happening in the world. I guess this makes sense to me, as I can imagine songs about blenders or shoes don’t have staying power.

There were music notes in this book, tons of symbols that meant absolutely nothing to me.

DSCN1079

I hummed the tunes as best I could, but I couldn’t fool myself into thinking I was getting any of the songs right. A quick YouTube search led to some bewitching melodies and a short fantasy of me running around barefoot over green hills in a gauzy white dress (Is this TMI?), but I never did find the songs from the book. I felt left out.

This led me to thinking about global literacy rates. Strange how my brain works.

I did another quick Internet search. As of 2001/2000, there were only two countries in the world operating on a hundred percent literacy rate: Greenland and Luxembourg. Afghanistan’s literacy rate was as low as twenty-eight percent**.  I don’t know how the statistics and data has changed over the last ten years, but numbers like that are somewhat shocking and enough to send me into a downward spiral of thinking.

Luckily, I also found Biblioburro, the story of a Columbian grade school teacher who wakes early each Saturday morning, loads two donkeys with books, and delivers them to children in rural areas. It was inspiring and made me feel like a sloth all at the same time.

In honor of Bibiloburro and Irish folk songs, I wrote a chorus of an imaginary song:

A man with a donkey and a book

Scarcely deserved a second look

Fiddle-de Fiddle-da Fiddle-de Fiddle-la

Yet he changed his world as best he could

The way any of us really should

Fiddle-de Fiddle-da Fiddle-de Fiddle-la

 

It still needs work . . . and maybe a little saxophone.

Drawings by Edward Ardizzone

Drawings by Edward Ardizzone

*This book did not have an ISBN.

**From Wikipedia.

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