Friday, November 9, 2012

My Terrifying Experience

Perhaps my story isn’t nearly as horrible as what’s happened recently to . . . well, anyone who isn’t me, but it was horrible for me, and really, I’m not sure what else matters.

Of course, I love you all and hope that whatever’s going on is quickly resolved.

But back to me.

I was in my office yesterday, which is what I do when I’m at work (I’m in there RIGHT NOW!) and I had Pandora on, because who can work without music? For some reason it was on shuffle, so it was playing random music from my playlists. This is fine with me. I don’t need to be stuck on one type of music all day. One minute it was playing show tunes, then The Offspring, then Queen, then Christmas music, then Tom Petty. I was doing my thing, it was doing its thing, and then . . .

(This would have been a great Halloween story, that’s how scary this is . . .)

I heard some sort of musical attempt that sent a sliver of icy hot pain right through my skull. Sort of like the feeling you get when someone that you’ve mortally offended stabs you in the eye with a pickax.

I don’t know if that’s happened to you, but I sincerely hope not.

I clicked over to Pandora to see what sort of evil had happened, and the current window was showing something by some guy named Justin Bieber. What kind of name is that? And is he the anti-Christ?

There was no time for thinking, I had to stop it, so I searched feverishly for the thumbs down, though I’m not sure there are enough thumbs down for this, and so damaged was my brain already that I could barely find the pause button.

By the time I got it stopped my hands were shaking, and I’d broken out in a cold sweat. Up till this point, I had avoided hearing anything of Justin Bieber’s music and my life was pretty damn good. But now – now I have this image in my head of a sound that should be banned.

Before going to bed last night I took a lot of narcotics so I wouldn’t have nightmares.

I’m certainly not any kind of musical expert. Right now, for example, Train’s playing. In some circles, this would get me mocked. I like to play the 1812 Overture just because I like loud booming cannons. I like to imagine Foo Fighters doing a rendition of The Nutcracker. I have no musical ability myself at all.

But this . . . this is the sort of thing that could lead to me being more selective about what’s going on around me. Or it could teach me to be ready for any adversity, and give me the opportunity to hone my already cat-like reflexes until I could turn it off within a second.

I’ll have to think about which way to go on that. My reflexes could certainly use some upgrading. Last night I was driving and the gangnam song came on and my reflexes whipped into shape and I froze, in absolute terror.

Once the zombie apocalypse comes I’m dead meat.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Better Than Trees

We traveled first to the Redwoods, because it's on the way to Southern California. At least from here, and that's the only way we can travel -- from here.

While there I saw this:

This is a TREE. I know, without my handy explanation you'd have no clue. It's a big freakin' tree. Here's the sign that was next to the tree:

It's not just any tree. It's an IMMORTAL TREE. At least so far. People have tried to cut it down (loggers, who apparently do that sort of thing), it's been struck by lightning, survived a forest fire, and a flood. 

And I thought of a friend of mine who has had a particularly rough year. I have had those myself, and am nothing if not sympathetic. Sometimes everything, or a lot of things, can seem to conspire against us, as if there's someone in a back room pulling levers and laughing maniacally whenever something goes wrong for us. And maybe it's not levers, but pushing buttons. Whatever. I too have had bad years (or decades). 

And I thought:

1) This tree has withstood fire, floods, crazed loggers (or rational loggers, I don't know), lightning, and it's still here. It's still standing, and while it has some scars, it's still here.

2) My friend, who is way smarter than a tree, and has a much more engaging personality, and is much more fun to hang out with, is still here. For that matter, so am I. Even I am smarter than a tree. 

3) I'm not saying it takes smarts to outwit a tree, but let's be honest: it helps. Trees are not known for their intellectual abilities. This particular tree is known for still being there, no matter what life has thrown at it. It still stands, maybe because it doesn't know any better than to just continue doing what it's doing. Which is being a tree.

4) I'm using a numbering method just because I want to. 

5) Sometimes we continue being even with all the fires, floods, hurricanes, loggers, politicians, whatever. And we're better than trees! Even big ones like this:

(See where the ax is? That's where someone tried to chop it down. And the fish? Flood up to there.)

We may not live as long (most certainly not), but we're at least as strong as trees, even when it seems like life has it in for us, when it's all so overwhelming and . . . icky. My friend is strong, and way better than a tree. I can't put a sign up next to her saying everything she's withstood, but that's because she keeps moving and isn't a tree. 

But I saw this tree, and I thought of her, and I thought of all of us who are at least as strong as a tree, and how we keep going no matter what life throws at us. Sometimes things happen that we just have to get through, like a flood, and we do, we just keep going and we get through it, and then things get better. Sometimes there's a flood and a fire and a dozen other things all at once, but they stop, they're all finite, and we go on.

We're better than trees too, because we're more fun at parties.

Not me, personally, but some people. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How To Be A Writer.5


Don’t mind me. I’m just sitting here waiting for inspiration to strike so I can get on with it. I’m also waiting for a chocolate cake to materialize in front of me. There’s about as much chance of that happening so I might as well.

While I’m at it, the waiting part, I shall also be waiting patiently for some magical weight loss, and maybe some cookies.

Occasionally I am struck by inspiration, but it’s usually at an inconvenient time. Inspiration that strikes when I’m driving isn’t all that useful, because if I stop the car and start writing I won’t get to my destination, which means I’ll probably be late for something. If I’m working on a spreadsheet and inspiration tells me to write a short story about numbers, chances are I’ll make myself continue on the spreadsheet, because that’s what we call paying work, and it keeps a roof over my head.

Inspiration is tricky. I have heard people say they’re waiting for it, as if it’s a train that’ll roll into the station at exactly 4:05 pm, unless it’s running late, in which case we’ll get impatient and curse the damn thing for not being there when we want it.

Maybe it is, for some people. Maybe they can only write when inspired. For me, inspiration is a nuisance, because it often comes when I’m traveling, or when I’m doing something else, and by the time I can get a piece of paper and a pen, or a pencil, or my iPad, or my phone, if I’m that desperate, or my laptop, it’s already started to fade away, like a vampire on a sunny morning.

Sorry about the vampire reference, but now that they’re not the hottest thing around I like to mention them.

Or are they? I don’t know. I’ve been too busy trying to find my inspiration to have a clue.

Inspiration, if you’re counting on it to get anything done, and by anything done I mean, “get the book done,” is not the most effective method of doing the work. It involves a lot of waiting and little actual work. I have a habit of waiting for inspiration to strike, and while waiting I eat donuts.

I am now 450 pounds and have no words to report.

That’s not entirely true. I have a few words, and not that many pounds. And I can never find a donut when I want one anyway.

But if I were to wait for inspiration, that is what could happen. Most of my life I waited for inspiration, which explains my dismal output. Between the waiting and the fear of failure and my own expectations it’s a wonder I’ve done anything at all.

Here’s how to find inspiration: sit your butt down and write. Write instead of thinking about it. Write instead of waiting for inspiration. Write instead of reading about it. (Easy for me to say, from this perspective.)

Waiting for inspiration is about as useful as waiting for your fairy godmother to sprinkle glitter on you and make you pretty. And by you, I mean me, of course. Write without inspiration, and the inspiration may sneak in the back when you’re not looking. It may come in the dead of night, a slight whisper that you can barely hear. It may not come at all, because it doesn’t like to be controlled, and it doesn’t like to be summoned. So act like you don’t care about it. Do your writing without it, and perhaps inspiration will start trying to get your attention, like that boy in high school who didn’t like you at all until you started ignoring him, and then he became a pretty good stalker.

Not that you want inspiration stalking you, though it would be a better stalker than the boy from high school. Don’t count on it, don’t let it rule your work, and don’t let it know that you care.

Of course you care, but act like you don’t.

Write without it, and let inspiration know you can take it or leave it, because you’ve got your own life to lead.

Just write.

Taking Care of Yourself

When all around you are running around with their psyches in disarray and the world is in danger of imploding, what do you do?

If you’re anything like me, and I sincerely hope you’re not, you assume that it’s not only about you, but that it’s somehow your fault, and even if it’s not your fault, that it’s your job to fix it.

If you ARE like me, I hope you’ve invested in some good therapy, because we can drive ourselves nuts with this sort of thing.

I grew up convinced that I was not enough. I wasn’t good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, and I grew up knowing that if I wanted people to like me, I’d sure as hell better have something to offer, like fixing their problems, or being helpful, or giving them something. I managed to learn early on that giving people things wasn’t helpful and made me go broke fast, so if I give you something, it’s because I want you to have it. And I do like giving gifts, I really do.

And I discovered that I can’t fix anyone else’s problems. I tried, but it wasn’t productive. When my ex-husband, Stew, was severely mentally ill I first tried to fix his problems, but that didn’t work, because I’m an accountant by trade, and he had no problems with numbers. Instead, I gave him the support he needed to work on his own stuff. Besides, I had my own stuff to work on at the same time.

If you know someone who has a mental illness or is going through something really tough for them, you can’t fix it, no matter how much you want to. What you can do is support them as they navigate through their own minefield. Sometimes this means you have to erect your own defenses to protect yourself. It’s so easy, when you’re close to someone, to let their worldview become a part of your worldview. It’s not productive if their world is dark and scary, because you don’t want to be there.

You really don’t. There are so many other worldviews out there, so we should try to avoid the scary ones.

I could make a political joke here, but I’m not going to. Such restraint!

One of my carryovers from my dissatisfying childhood is my reassuring nature. “No problem,” I’m used to telling people, even if it IS a problem. “It’s okay,” I’ll say, in an attempt to prop up their fragile ego, when it really isn’t okay. “Yes, by all means, stomp all over me and leave me for dead, I’ll forgive you because I’m so damn empathetic and I know you’re in pain,” is something I might have said if I felt like using that many words all at once. But it’s not okay. It’s a hard one, for me, because I want to please people, I want them to like me. (Newsflash: Some people will not ever like me, no matter what. One of my sisters has told me she’s not interested enough in me to buy my book, which is basically about ME, not even to just have it and say, “My sister wrote this.” I didn’t really understand this concept because if any members of my family write a book, I’m buying it, and I’m promoting it to everyone I know. But this is life – some people will like us, and some won’t, and it doesn’t matter if we lie down in the middle of the freeway and let them run over us – in fact, that might make them like us less.)

And make no mistake, I do go out of my way for people all the time. But now, when I do, it’s because it is okay, it isn’t a problem, and I do want to do it. And I do this for people who appreciate it, usually.

With Stew, I had to learn it wasn’t okay for someone else, anyone else, to act as if I were their personal verbal punching bag, and that it’s my responsibility to myself to say, “That’s not going to happen.” He needed someone to tell him when what he was doing wasn’t okay, that his illness did not give him license to behave anyway he liked. He needed that far more than someone putting up with his occasional bad behavior, because he could no longer recognize what was okay, and what wasn’t. When you’re ill, whether it’s depression or something like schizo-affective disorder, your perceptions are off, and when that happens, you (and by you, I mean I) need someone to tell you what’s okay, and what isn’t.

Occasionally I slip up. But then I recover. It’s an ongoing process, this self-improvement thing.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone who needs help is to let them figure it out on their own. The best thing you can do for yourself is stand your ground. Where you draw that line is up to you, as long as you realize there is a line.

I could have said this in just a few words, but I like words: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Color of Light

I tried capturing it in jars, first a Hellman’s mayonnaise, not only rinsed out, but scoured, cleaned within an inch of its life. Outside was the crisp light of early fall, the trees not yet turning but on the verge. The sky bright with free floating dreams, the kind that rarely float close enough to catch. I stood underneath the pear tree where the light was subdued, and I held up my jar, as high as I could reach, and the light flowed in. It filled my jar, stopping just short of the top, a clear bright color with the promise of cool nights and fire.

When I put the lid on the light tried to escape, pushing back against the lid while I pushed down, and just a bit of it got out, not much, but more than I’d like. I wanted the jar full, so it could last all winter, and not run out halfway through January.

I tried a pickle jar, scrubbing the jar first with a scouring paid, and though I couldn’t fit my whole hand in I used two fingers, wanting to make sure the color of the light wouldn’t be contaminated by any extra pickle flavor. I stood next to the house on the first cold crisp day of winter when the air was brisk enough to turn my nose red. Instead of holding the jar up I swept it next to me, scooping up the light. In the jar the light looked white, though it was as clear as the sky. I was stronger this time, and sneakier, and before the light knew what was happening the lid was on tight. It wasn’t as much light as I had in the mayonnaise jar, but in the summer I don’t need as much of the winter light, so it should last me.

By spring we had moved, and the light I wanted to capture wasn’t available at our new place. I had early fall, and the first day of winter, but I wanted the spring of where we used to live, not the flat spring of where we were living. The spring air where we used to live was full of promises, the dreams drifting down close enough to touch before they spun away again, light as gossamer, as fragile as a soap bubble. But where we were now, there were no dreams floating by, just a flat blankness of space, with no color to the light at all. It was as if the color was gone, replaced with fallen dreams that crumbled to grey ash in the harsh spring days.

I didn’t try to save any of it. I wanted no reminders of that spring, and I scuttled through the days with my eyes half-closed. Sometimes, but only rarely, I would open the Hellman’s jar a tiny bit, just to get an idea of fall or winter. This would last an hour or two before fading away again.

And that summer was the summer I left home, packing up my jars and my memories, and heading out of town, walking down the two-lane highway away from everyone I had ever known. When I couldn’t walk anymore I stopped, and I sat on a boulder twice the size of me, and I put my two jars next to me, their colors out-of-place in the heat of the summer. These were cool clear colors, not the dry desert colors of where I was now, and I resolved to return to those colors.

The next day they found me though, pulling up alongside me in the wood paneled station wagon, calling to me. “Annie, come get in the car.”

I kept walking, foolishly hoping they would think I was someone else.

The car stopped then, and my father, a short man with a smile of regret and an air of having been done wrong, got out of the car. This was what I had feared the most, that he would find me and take me back. But I stopped, and turned, and looked at him.

What I saw on his face was not happiness, but it wasn’t sadness either. “Annie, you have to come home now.”

“I can’t see the color of the air there,” I told him, knowing he wouldn’t understand. She would, if she would get out of the car, but she wouldn’t.

“Foolishness.” He scratched his chin, overgrown with a few days’ of stubble, and he stood with his legs slightly apart, ready to run after me if I should take to running. Just in case. It had happened before, me deciding to run, but I’d learned that no matter how hard I tried, he’d always catch up to me, grab my arm, and pull me back towards him so hard I’d probably fall, and he wouldn’t catch me.

“Air doesn’t have a color. Just get in the car.”

My mother peered out the side window at me, her brow furrowed. She never understood why I ran off, though she knew what I meant about the color of the air. Sweat glistened on her upper lip, and on her forehead, and I walked to the car, thinking of how beautiful she was even as she was determined to return me to my prison.

Towards the end of summer I took an empty jar, this one having held salsa, and I scrubbed it clean with the scrub brush my mother kept for the potatoes, and when I’d done that I scrubbed the label off, and then I scrubbed off all the glue. I wanted it perfect, one perfect jar for the end of summer light.

I walked out at twilight, past the end of the street where there was nothing but desert, and I held my jar high, willing in the still desert air. The twilight air had more color to it than the daytime air, and the briefest glimmer of hope that sparkled like a worn bit of metal that has just the slightest bit of life left to it.

Once the lid was on, keeping in the twilight air so it couldn’t get out, I took it home, and I placed it on the shelf next to the fall and the first day of winter, and they glimmered together, far off dreams and the present, telling me to hold on, that spring would come again, and that next time perhaps I could capture it. Next time perhaps I would want to capture it, the spring of a new start, the dampness of spring soil waiting for seeds.

The color of the air glimmering on my shelves, telling me to hold on, that new colors were on their way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How To Be A Writer.4

Writing Through the Pain

Everyone has experienced pain and heartbreak. Knowing this doesn’t help when it’s happening to you, of course, since we’re not part of a collective. We’re each sort of on our own here, and unfortunately we can’t ease another’s pain just because we’ve been through it. If we could, we would, but everyone has to go through their own pain. This part of being a person really sort of sucks.

I’ve heard people say it makes you stronger, pain and heartbreak, but I don’t know about that. Maybe we were that strong all along and just didn’t know it. People also say that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, and that I will disagree with. I don’t know if there is a God, and if there is a God, handing out just as much pain as you can handle and no more, why are so many people having more pain than they can handle?

Perhaps that last sentence isn’t entirely clear, but I’ve seen many people with more pain than they can handle all the time. Suicides are up, depression and anxiety are up, people are having a hard time coping.

It’s the world right now, and as it ever was. And as it will be.

So how are we supposed to write when the pain is so present that it controls our mind? When we can only think of what we’ve lost, or how everything sucks so bad that there doesn’t seem to be any point to writing anything at all? When we’re so busy asking ourselves why we should continue, how we can write past that to keep going?

For some of us, writing is our passion. It’s what we do. It’s how we define ourselves. (When I’m not defining myself by the size of my jeans, or how much money I made this year, anyway.) We aren’t what we write, but we write because we have to. And sometimes what we need to write isn’t what we choose to write, nor is it anything we want to put our name on.

I have had to write obituaries after watching a body carted out of the house, after watching the loved one die. Stew and my mom both left me behind, dying right in front of me, and then I had to sit down and write the obits. One might think I could have done that before they died; it wasn’t as if their deaths were unexpected, and it’s not as if we couldn’t see it coming, but I couldn’t set it down on paper, or computer, before then. I just couldn’t.

So I sat in front of my laptop and I looked at the blank screen, still not wanting to believe that they had died, and hoping the whole thing was a nightmare.

I’d type out the name and the date. I’d put down key words. I’d think of who they had been, and the joy they’d given while they had been alive. Every word that came out was strained, and every word that made it onto paper was insufficient. But sometimes, if you can get those words out, no matter how insufficient and difficult, you then have something to work with, something you can rewrite and refine. You can have others read it, and comment. And when it’s done you’ll feel like you’ve scaled a mountain. Most likely because you have.

There is no easy way. Not that I’ve found, but if I do find one, I’ll let you know.

It’s not always death; there are many ways for us to be immersed in pain, so many ways for chaos to make itself an omnipotent presence in our lives. And still we have our stories to tell, still we need to force those words out of us and onto paper, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Sometimes it helps if we just write down what we’re feeling, why the chaos is there, and tell yourself, if no one else, about the pain.

This doesn’t mean you’re writing a masterpiece. It may mean you’re writing something you’ll discard later, or you may save it so you can remember, next time, what it was like. It does mean you’re giving voice to the chaos in your mind, whether it’s whispering or screaming (mine likes to talk in a high falsetto, as if it’s mocking me, which it is). For writers, this is a first step in letting it go. Or if not letting it go, because does it ever go all the way away? at least giving it less power over you. That’s what chaos seeks: power. And when it’s inside of you, mixed in with the pain, it has enormous power, and this power is being used for evil instead of good. When you put the words on paper, little bits of evil fall out with the words, and you can brush these little bits onto the floor and then sweep them up and throw them away.

Or have your housekeeper do it.

Keep writing out the pain until you can’t find any more words for it, or until you fall asleep, or until you get hungry, or until you get so sick of it you just want to move on and do something else. You may still have pain, but it will get better.

You may not be able to write past the pain, so you may have to write through it. Don’t let it get the best of you, because we want that part, and chaos has no use for it. Save the best for us, your readers, and let chaos take its pain and crawl into a corner and die, for all we care.

We have no use for it, and neither do you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I KNOW! I’m pretty excited myself, so I can imagine how you’re feeling about it.

Granted, you don’t care much, but you must understand what a big deal this is. Not that you’ll care more, but just so you know: it is very difficult for me to find pants. Oh sure, they’re in stores everywhere, but none of them fit me. They’re too short, or the butt sags, or they’re too short.

Mostly what I’m saying is, they’re too short. Or the butts sag. And I mostly wear jeans because I’m not comfortable in pants – pants always make me remember junior high when my sister made me a pair of pants that were so big on me everyone at school laughed at me. So we went to a place that has the kind of jeans that fit me – you know the ones I mean – far too expensive, but they have them in long and they appear to fit even after I wash them. I was collecting some to try on, and the helpful sales guy said, “Do you want to take a 12 regular just in case?”

“Just in case of what? I decide I want capris?”

Yes. I am a size 12. I KNOW! That’s a plus size model size!

I didn’t start off this big. You know how someone like me gets this big? We start off being skinny, with everyone laughing at us. (And by us, I mean me.) We leave home at 18, go to basic training, lose a couple of pounds, then go to Monterey, California, for awhile, and gain A LOT OF POUNDS. At the time there were chow halls to choose from: Air Force, Army, and Navy, and we could go to whichever random chow hall we wanted, depending on what sounded the best. The Navy does have the best food, by the way. Not only that, but a short walk downhill was downtown Monterey, filled with fabulous restaurants. (Of course, we couldn’t walk back up the hill after pigging out, so we’d take a taxi back.)

And so I gained weight.

Then I lost weight.

And gained weight. And because I’m such a big girl anyway (by which I mean, I’m taller than the average . . . girl) no one seems to notice so much when I gain weight. Anyway, eventually how it works is that the pounds don’t go away as easily as they got there, and you, or I, end up this size.

So my legs are long, my butt is little, and waist is . . . well, hidden pretty well, by the fat.

Did you know that people who carry their weight in their stomach are at greater risk of dropping dead of fat-related causes than people who carry it in their hips? I do not make this stuff up.

Anyway, so I tried on some jeans, which have to be boot cut because otherwise, well, I can’t wear my red boots, and I bought a pair.

Made my week.

I know. With everything that’s going on in the world, how can something like this make me happy?

For one thing, I don’t go shopping much. To fortify myself for this event I had a 5-Hour Energy first. (Yes! They work for FIVE HOURS!) So when I do go shopping, it’s a big deal.

For another thing, I have had a really rough summer. I have been engaged in hand-to-brain combat with depression, and while I’m now winning it was rough going for a bit.

And for yet another thing, every day when I wake up I hear more bad news. People I love are sick, sad, depressed, the environment is going to hell, there’s killers running loose in the streets, zombie bees are now in Washington, there’s some sort of political thing going on, people are homeless, jobless, hopeless, and there’s a dead baby panda somewhere. Cripes, it never ends. Every day I hear something horrible.

Man, life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?

Here’s the thing. There is always going to be something going on that I can be outraged about. There will always be sadness and despair and people doing horrible things to other people. (And what the hell is that all about anyway? That’s just not right.) But I can’t fix it, though I would really like to. Sometimes it’s all I can do to hang on to what little piece of sanity I have. And I think a lot of us are in the same boat, metaphorically speaking.

Obviously. If only we all had boats, that would make life more fun.

So like I say in my enormously popular book (insert self-serving statement HERE), you have to hang on to whatever pieces of joy you can, no matter how fleeting.

My friends hate it when I tell them that. “But I don’t want to!” They tell me, “I’m unhappy!” So I try not to run around acting as if I have the answers, because I don’t. I do know that our time here is fleeting, and that we have to really work at finding the little things that make us happy, the things that make it possible for us to look at the icky things and work around them, if we can, or help other people with their icky things. Everyone runs into icky things sometime, and they can beat you down.

Look for the light, in whatever you do. Take the little pieces of joy you can and build on them. It’s all I’ve got for the moment, but sometimes a tiny bit of light is all you need.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's Always A Choice

I had a dream. This is not uncommon. I have dreams fairly often. It's sort of what I do when I, uh, sleep. But in this dream we were touring expensive apartments in high rises, not that we necessarily wanted to move there. No, we need a house with a yard and a fence for the dogs we'll always have, because no way am I taking the dogs downstairs when they need to go outside. I'm far too lazy.

And as we toured the apartments, some of them quite lavish and huge, we ran into other people who were also touring. And then we debated the various merits of various apartments. This one had too many bedrooms, that one had too many stairs, the other one didn't have enough space. The one at the top of the building, however, had everything, including a view. 

I do love a good view. We could see the city for miles, and it was a beautiful bright day, much like today. 

As we were leaving we were talking about our finances, and why we couldn't afford one of these places, and you said to me, "It's all that stuff you buy at 1 Sale A Day."

Enraged, I turned to you and said, "I only bought one thing from 1 Sale A Day, just once, and it was twenty-seven dollars."

"Oh," you said, "I thought it was more. You get those emails all the time."

"Yes, they send them to me every day. That's why it's called 1 Sale A Day. It doesn't mean I buy anything."

You weren't exactly apologetic, but you shrugged your shoulders, as to say you were glad we'd cleared that up.

We were in an elevator, and preparing to go down, and it occurred to me that I have a problem with high speed elevators, which is that I float towards the ceiling.

As far as I know, this is only a problem in my dreams, and not in real life. It's not as if I've ever actually floated in an elevator.

There were other people in the elevator with us, and when it began its descent I floated toward the ceiling, and I was embarrassed, because everyone else stayed right where they should, feet firmly planted on the ground, while I was hanging out in mid-air. I felt unnatural and a bit conspicuous. 

Someone said to me, "You can come back down to earth if you twist and force yourself down."

This hadn't occurred to me. I'd though I was stuck in the air for the duration. 

I don't know if I stayed up in the air, or if I came down, but knowing I had the option seemed to make a world of difference. It was my choice, now, whether to float, or whether to stand on my own two feet. 

And I remembered it this morning, when I should be working, because I remember that it's always a choice, whether I stand or float, whether I come down to earth or stay above with my head in the clouds. 

(I almost typed heads in the cloud, but I've only got the one head.) 

It's always a choice for me to make. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Be A Writer.3

Drop the ego. Easy for me to say, what with my gigantic ego. Sometimes me and my ego don’t fit in the same room together, so I park it another room, but it still screams at me from a distance. I’m a paradox – I know I’m a crappy person and a middling writer, but I’m fairly convinced that I’m a good writer. It’s a difficult spot to be in. (See this post (coincidentally) by Betsy Lerner, who knows more about how writers think than I ever will - Betsy Lerner's Blog)

The truth is, no matter how much you write and no matter how good you are, some people just don’t care. You may think you’re the best writer you know, and maybe you are, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep telling people that.

The reason I know this so well is because I tried that method and no one cared.

Some writers think that they don’t need editors. I am not one of them. I need an editor. I love my editor. Don’t blame her for my blog posts though – I don’t have those edited. I just write and post. But if someone is going to write a book, someone really needs an editor, and someone may need gasp! Rewrites!

Editing and rewrites to make your writing better means putting aside the ego, just a bit, and asking for help. A different perspective is vital for, because we often can’t see the forest for the trees. (I hate clichés.) We’re so used to seeing what we meant to be saying that when we look at what we’ve written that’s what we see, even if it didn’t quite come out as we intended.

For example, some of my phrasing and sentences might not be clear – from my perspective, they’re perfectly clear and make sense, but from the perspective of someone who wasn’t there (whether fiction or non-fiction), it may just be confusing. We can’t tell because we’re so familiar with what we’re trying to say that we don’t see it.

I’d go look for an example, if I had the energy.

Get used to the idea that you may have written something astoundingly beautiful and it’s going to be cut. Not that it will, necessarily, but it might. You might have a paragraph that just blows you away, but if it doesn’t fit with the rest of your work, if it obfuscates and goes off on a tangent that’s not relative to the story, it’ll have to go. This is really hard, because it’s yours.

This is when an editor comes in handy.

You can ask friends and family to read your work and that’s fine – but if they’re like most of my friends, they’ll say, “It’s great, love it,” and that’ll be it, which is nice, but not terribly helpful. I do have some friends who are great at pointing out things that are wrong, or need changing or clarifying, but often the people closest to us are the worst at editing.

Get used to having other people read your work and give feedback. We all love it when people to tell us how much they love our work, but feedback may be negative, and you have to be prepared to hear it. Not necessarily accept it – just because it’s negative doesn’t mean it’s right. But also get used to not receiving any feedback. Your fragile ego (and by “your,” I mean “my”) may be expecting a response for everything you do, but your (my) fragile ego needs to get over itself.

Most people who read something, online or offline or some other line, won’t respond at all. Ever. It’s nothing personal, usually, it’s just that everyone has their own stuff. Or there’s nothing to say. Or your piece doesn’t resonate with them. Or whatever. It doesn’t really matter why there’s no response, it only matters that you don’t take it personally, and that you realize most likely has nothing to do with you.

All you can do is write, and do what you will with it. Tell your ego to relax a bit – you may be the best thing since sliced bread, but so are a lot of other people. It’s a fabulous world with lots of great writers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Used To Be Funny

Humor is so subjective. People used to think I was funny. Then I wrote this damn book.
Suddenly I'm not funny anymore.
I've had people start reading the book in front of me, while I'm standing there, which makes me uncomfortable, but I feel awkward saying, "Don't read it NOW! I'm right here!" So they start reading it, and they laugh.
This is true.
This is good.
I want people to laugh. All I want to do is entertain people.
But people who haven't read the book don't think I'm funny. They think I'm a humorless mental illness advocate, and they ignore me. They don't want to read a book that isn't amusing. Sure, there's sad stuff too -- I like to think of it as a well-rounded book, but if you haven't read it or heard about it (which is still most people in the world) you wouldn't think it was particularly amusing. Maybe it isn't, particularly, but at least some of it is.
Of course, there could be people who read the book who don't get the joke and don't laugh. Not everyone finds me funny, even when I was known more for being funny than not. Some people just think I'm a smartass, which I am, because it's an excellent defense mechanism.
I don't laugh at the 3 Stooges, and I don't laugh at . . . other things that rely on physical humor at the expense of wit.
However, I laughed so hard at Cabin in the Woods that I insisted we go see the movie again the next weekend, and I never do that. I'm not a horror movie aficionado -- I like good horror movies that rely upon characterization and atmosphere to show us the things we fear most, which is often ourselves, but I avoid slasher movies and movies that are just about the gore and body count. But this movie was so funny. Blood and gore everywhere, all the horror movie tropes brought into one hilarious romp of total disaster. It's the absurdity that gets me, the over-the-top culmination of all horror movie cliches brought together in all their ridiculousness. I still can't hear elevator doors pinging without thinking of elevator doors opening to reveal scads of movie monster cliches emerging to massacre anyone in their path, then closing, then ping! And then open again with more cliche monsters . . . again and again. We Americans like things over the top -- we have to keep outdoing things, going faster, being richer, creating more outrageous events, and this was a perfect representation of our skewed overachieving culture.
We almost just can't be anymore.
I want to be funny again. I want to stop taking myself so seriously, because my life is pretty damn cushy these days.
I did stand-up a couple of times. Other comedians were relying on stale bits, or exaggerated physical humor. One guy flopped onto the floor and acted like he was having a seizure so the audience could see the bottom of his shoes, on which were written . . . I don't remember what, but it wasn't very funny.
My bit was actually funny. I mean, I can't tell, but the club manager said I had good material, and a good deadpan delivery. It was so much fun, just making people laugh. If I had the energy I'd go do it again.
Then again, if I had the energy I'd go do a lot of things.
And time. Time and energy.
But I'm not sure if I can be stand-up funny again.
But now that I think about it, the best thing about doing stand-up was that I got Stew to go up and do it too. He didn't want to -- he was pretty apprehensive around crowds by then as it was, and then he tried to pull out at the last minute, while we parked at the club.
"I can't do it," he said, "I just can't," and he was shaking.
I told him he didn't have to if he didn't want t o. It's not like it was mandatory. It was supposed to be fun.
"You don't have to, but I'm going, so you do have to come in and watch me."
And so we went in, and after I did my bit and people laughed he decided, "What the hell," and he got up, and he went up on that stage and he performed. Well, I thought he was funny the first time I met him, so I wasn't surprised he could do stand-up well. It took a lot out of him, but he did it. I was so proud.
We were both similar in that way. We just want to make people laugh. I'm a strong believer in laughter for medicinal purposes.
When Andrew and I are together we're always making jokes. Stupid jokes sometimes, but humor is such a part of our daily routine that it makes me happy just being around him. He comes up with the most outrageous things.
Maybe with his coaching I can stop being so serious and start being funny again. Then again, my humor is often so deadpan even I don't recognize it.
Or can I?
We all need things to make us laugh, whatever it is. We have so many options to choose from, if we only know where to look.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How To Be A Writer. 2.

Today someone sent me an email asking if his wife would like my book.

How do you respond to that? (By you, I mean me, obviously.) How do I know? Maybe she only likes romance, or is a 50 Shades sort of person (in which case . . . oh, never mind). Maybe she will, maybe she won’t. I can’t be so pinheaded as to not realize that there may be people who have read it and don’t like it – they just don’t tell me about it afterwards. Far as I know, everyone loves it and it should be a bestseller.

(No, it’s not, but publishing being what it is, things are what they are.)

(By the way, I hate clichés such as, “things are what they are,” “at the end of the day,” “where’s my machete when I need it?”)

This is the same guy who a week ago expressed some amazement that the book has done as well as it has. Really? You need to say to someone, “I’m just surprised it’s done as well as it has.”

This from someone who knows me only from an email list and hasn’t read any of my work. I just said, “Eh,” and moved on. This is what you do with comments like that, unless you want to engage in a discussion of everything you stand for. I wanted to respond, “And I am surprised that you’re still breathing. I can’t imagine the amount of thought you must put into staying alive every day.”

But I didn’t.

After today’s question about whether or not his wife would like it (in which my response was, “I don’t know, other people seem to,”) he responded again with this gem:

“I guess I was just thinking that if it wasn’t nice to the psych health care field she might not like it, but then again that doesn’t seem likely. I’ll pick up a copy in the next week or so.”

Yes. My entire point was to be nice to members of a profession to the exclusion of telling the actual story. Or, alternatively,

No, my entire point was to be mean to members of a profession to the exclusion of telling the actual story.

Sheesh. People. I hadn’t actually considered whether I was being nice or mean to people in the psych health field because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about friendship, and finding hope when it seems there is none. It’s also about what we’re willing to do to save others. Those are the themes. Mental illness is just the backdrop.

It’s an important backdrop, but there it is all the same. I wish people in the psych field would read it. Or students studying in that field, because it’s a real-life case study of what happens without a safety net, and a first-person account of what is actually in the head of someone with mental illness, someone who’s desperately trying to put his life back together.

Some days I want to move on, but then I realize I really do want people to know this story, so I press on with talking about it.

When you’re a writer, you have options. You can write about anything and there’s a niche for it. And if there isn’t, you can make one for yourself, if you can find enough people interested in what you’re writing about. You can put as much of yourself into your work as you want. Sometimes I write to entertain, and sometimes I write to inform, and sometimes I write because otherwise my head will explode.

My husband has asked that I please not explode. It’s very difficult to get brain out of the carpets.

The choice is ours. Some people who have read the book feel like they know me, and that’s all right with me. (Though they could email me more often – it wouldn’t hurt to keep in touch.) I didn’t hold back, and this is a story that’s so very important to me.

When we write, we take little pieces of ourselves and we stick it on the paper, and we hope people like what we’ve done with it. Our writing is not us, and we have to keep ourselves separate from it, but it is a part of us. So tend it with care and nurture it, and don’t give up on it, even when you’re certain that would be the best course of action.

I myself give up at least once a week, but then I keep going anyway. I don’t know if it’s because I’m slow to catch on or determined, but since the result is the same, it doesn’t matter. Ignore the people who want a nice little story that won’t offend anyone, and go with what you want to write. Use your own pieces of yourself.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The End of Summer

I’ve never really grown up when it comes to summer. Each summer I have the same issues with wanting to be out playing instead of inside working. Growing up, I never worked in the summer. A job might have been a good idea in high school, but my time was filled with looking after my younger brother, and a job just never fit it into the schedule.

Besides, I never had any skills and didn’t know how to get a job. Instead I took care of Jeff, picking him up from preschool, hanging out with him, answering his endless questions, hanging out by the pool with him (he was a much better swimmer than I by the time he was 3), and letting summer float by.

I still want summers to float by. When it was hot, really hot, I wanted the summer to fly by, the sooner the better. But when the temperatures go down into the 70’s and 80’s I just want it to float by, lazy days where I do what I want, a giant summer vacation. It doesn’t, of course, because I still have to earn a living, since money doesn’t grow on trees.

This summer I also tried to convince myself and others that I was a writer, and some people are still buying that lie. I’m still buying it myself, though I have certainly faced the subject head on and should, by all logical measures, abandon the idea and console myself with a life of being paid by the hour.

No such luck. I have faced really dark times. I have doubted myself, and I have been tired and frustrated. I have fought against encroaching depression, which is just something I have to do, no matter what I do with my life. I have wished for other skills and other knowledge, and I have wished to not care if I never write again. I have repeatedly dealt with the idea that I am not a special snowflake, that I may be more hype than substance, that writing will always be my “little hobby,” something which people think is cute in a sort of, “Oh, isn’t that cute that she writes those little books” sort of way.

I always wanted my family’s approval, and even though they like me well enough, it has occurred to me that it’s not that they don’t approve of me, but they’re just not that interested in what I do, and that we have no common ground. Also, it’s not that they don’t consider me good enough, it’s that I don’t. I will always wish they approved of me, and though people tell me it doesn’t matter in the slightest, it’s as if it’s built into me, and I can’t escape it.

I haven’t floated through this summer as gracefully as I would have liked. For that matter, doing anything gracefully isn’t my forte. I consider Labor Day weekend to be my last glimpse of summer, and once it’s over I can return to my real life of working on numbers and fitting in some writing when I can. Of course, that describes my summer also, but in summer it’s so much more work to get myself to sit down and do the work when the sky outside is so blue and I know, just know without even thinking about it, that I belong out there.

After Labor Day is when I restart, again, and hope I can do it better this time. Or at least do it without so much self-doubt. Or at least do it without banging my head against the wall wondering why I can’t do it better. Self-flagellation is not something I aspire to, though I am quite good at it. In summer I can excuse myself because it is summer, but this summer I have been very hard on myself. I hope to lessen it, though I’m not yet sure how that will happen.

Summer is coming to an end, and I am still fighting off this virus that makes me so tired, makes my throat hurt, make my chest feel like there’s a giant weight on it. Or maybe it’s hay fever. Or maybe it’s just the end of summer, barreling down on me like an out-of-control freight train. (An overused metaphor, but still useful now and then.) Maybe it’s just another stop on my journey to wherever it is I’m going.

This is why I put off scheduling a doctor appointment. “Doctor, I’m having problems, and I think it’s because summer is ending.” “Doctor, I feel like crap, but it’s probably just the freight train headed my way.” “Doctor, if I’m so healthy why do I feel so bad?”

“Doctor, it’s the end of summer, can you make it painless?”

I love fall, and I love winter, so I shouldn’t have a problem with the end of summer. But I do – new beginnings, the concept of change, the idea that another year is speeding by and I’m still looking for my place. I have all the pieces: a great husband, great dogs, a great place to live, work I’m paid for, daily gratefulness for everything that has brought me here, where my greatest joys are, and still, still I keep looking for more.

Now I need a nap. It’s the virus thing, of course.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How To Be A Writer.1

There are two things in the world that I know about, and one of them is writing. So here’s how to be a writer:


I hope you were paying attention so I don’t have to repeat that.

If you’ve noticed, part of the fun of being a writer is that it’s so accessible. As in, half the population at any given time is either engaged in calling themselves a writer or they have a book in them that they know would be fab if they could just get it out.

The thing about writing is that the writing itself is the easy part. You sit down and you type out words. If you’re old-fashioned, you write down words on paper. The words form sentences. The sentences form paragraphs. The paragraphs can form an essay, a chapter, a story. It sounds simple enough, which is perhaps why there are so many writers in the world.

As I said in the beginning, there are two things that I am good at, and one of those is writing. The other is bookkeeping, which is also accessible, because everyone can add and subtract. Therefore, my particular skill set shouldn’t be in heavy demand, should it? I’m getting by though, so don’t worry.

Say you’re a writer. What’s the most important thing to know about writing?

1. Words don’t happen by themselves.

2. Waiting for inspiration is a good idea.

You can only pick one of the above, and if you picked number 2, good luck.

When I was, oh, I don’t know, 7? 8? I handed my mom a newspaper I’d put together. Except for mixing up a couple of names of high profile individuals, it was pretty good. I mean, for someone my age. My mom looked at it, oohed and aahed, pointed out my mistake, and I think that was one of the last times anyone in my family commented on my writing. It was a useless skill, something that writers did, but not someone like me. I kept writing, always knowing I was a writer, but also knowing I wasn’t good enough to do anything with it.

I’ve tried to give up writing so many times, and yet I can’t.

I want to not care. I want to be happy not writing. I want to not have all this stuff in my head that keeps asking to be let out. I want to be able to walk into a bookstore and not think that I should have more books written by now. I would like to be good at something else.

But that hasn’t worked for me. I give it up, and then I go back. Over and over again. It’s like an addiction, but since it’s not particularly harmful and keeps me off the streets at night, it’s not a cause for concern.

Except for the fact that I do care.

Here’s something about writing: It’s true that some of us have the writing thing in us from the beginning. It’s always been with us, something we carry around even if we’re busy making a living, or teaching, or ignoring it. But it’s also true that it can be taught. Either way, the only way to get better at is to keep writing, and to keep writing as often as you can.

Write until you think you can’t write anymore, and then write some more.

Write until the words on the page don’t make any more sense, and then add some more words. (This is why rewriting and editors are so important.)

If you want to get good at writing, you write.

It’s also true that there are many best-selling authors who are not writers. They’re celebrities, or famous, they have a name, and all they needed to get published was to say, “Hey, I want to write a book.” Or a publisher saw the chance for some quick cash and approached a celebrity and said, “Hey, can we put your name on something written by someone else?” And the celebrity says, “Sure, why not?”

Celebrities get this sort of thing all the time, so I hear, and who turns down free money? The reading public is fickle, and the reading public likes to read about celebrities.

You, however, are not a celebrity. I am not a celebrity. Most of the people I know are not celebrities. (Wait. Maybe none of the people I know are celebrities.) If we want to see our name on a book we have to either 1) do it ourselves, or 2) work really hard to get someone else to do it. That’s just how it works. If you’re willing to work at it, you’ve got a chance.

Sometimes all we need is a chance. And sometimes we need a million of them.

Lesson 1: Read Stephen King’s On Writing. Find On Writing here. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but if you want to learn how to be a writer, it’s a good place to start. It’s even a good place to check out mid-stream.

Or check in. Please, no checking out.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Don't Want To, and You Can't Make Me

When Stew was suffering with massive anxiety issues and the thought of going anywhere, or doing anything, was so overwhelming he would shake at the thought of it (and not a good sort of shake), I would ask him to make an effort.

That doesn’t sound particularly helpful, does it?

I would also tell him that it was his choice, and that if he didn't attend (fill in the blank), the world would not come to an end. "But I do want you to make an effort," I'd say, "Even if it's only to get dressed and get in the car. Then, if you still don't feel up to it, you can stop and come back in."

I'd break it into tasks for him. Shower. Check. Get dressed. Check. Go out to car. Check. Get in car. If the world hadn't fallen to pieces around him by then, there was a better than even chance that he would make it at least partway to his destination, if not all the way.

A better than even chance may not sound like much, but it's certainly better than making no effort at all.

This doesn't work for everyone, of course -- everyone operates differently. All I can tell you is what worked for us. And your partner has to be willing to make the painful effort of trying.

Make no mistake -- it is very painful. If the thought of leaving the house can cause one to break out in hives, make their heart race and breathing become difficult, the act of leaving the house can make all that even worse.

I find anti-anxiety meds help with that. But as much as they help, they don't relieve the problem. They don't make it go away and they don't make life suddenly easy. But they can calm the physical symptoms enough so we can consider the possibility of taking that next step.

Some of our loved ones don't have the motivation to take that next step, they're comfortable being who they are, and aren't interested in making that extra effort to get past it. "You just don't understand," they might say, as if your understanding would make all the difference.

"If only you would understand."

And so we try. We reassure them, we tell them we understand, we make allowances because they're ill, and we keep trying to understand.

But they still refuse to leave the house, because all of our understanding isn't what they need. All of our attention, our time, and our devotion to their illness aren't what they need.

I don't know what they do need. I'm not an expert. I'm just experienced with a few individual situations. But I do know that external measures aren't going to be enough. They need to want to do better for themselves, not just because you say they need to.

With Stew it was easy. He wasn't likely to use the "You just don't understand" line with me because he knew that it didn't matter if I understood or not. I was there to help him through it, and relating to it wasn't as necessary as listening to what he needed. He had the internal motivation to get better -- he was driven by his own vision of what he wanted his future to look like, and it did not include being a shut-in.

Even when it seemed as if being a recluse was the most attractive option.

I don't believe in the coddle theory of helping, which is when we say, "It's okay, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do," as if a little more time and rest will solve the issue, as if by magic. I believe in the sort of pushy theory of helping, which goes more like this: "Try it, make an effort, because if you at least make an effort, you'll feel better about it, even if you don't make it all the way. Trying is an accomplishment."

And that's the point to emphasize. Trying is an accomplishment. Not trying at all is giving up before we even try. Sometimes that's appropriate, but mostly it's not, not if we want to make progress.

Some days, the best we can hope for is just a bit of effort. It can make the world look just a little bit more attainable, and it can make the next effort just a little bit easier. But without that first step, well, the first step is the hardest, isn't it? And if we never take it, how can we get to the next one?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Let's Diagnose a Mental Illness!

Haven’t you heard? It’s the new party game, fun for all ages and the fab part is, everyone wins! I do like a game where I get to win.
                Look, I do a lot of reading around the web, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed (hopefully it’s more than one thing, but I don’t want to have my expectations too high, do I?) it’s that we, meaning people, are quick to diagnose mental illness in anyone who isn’t us. Strangers, people mentioned by third parties, people in the news, people not in the news, our neighbors, our friends, our family, our enemies. We are more than eager to diagnose them with a mental illness. Or a mental disorder, if you will.
                “She’s obviously a narcissist, he’s depressed, she’s psychotic, that person over there is bipolar, I bet she’s got borderline . . . “
                And on and on it goes.
                “But I’ve seen someone with exactly the same thing!” I hear, as if that means anything. I’ve been around a few people with cancer, but you don’t see me running around diagnosing random strangers with it. For one thing, it’s rude. For another thing, what the hell do I know about it?
                For a third thing, mental disorders are complex and often difficult for professionals to diagnose. Yes! Get this: there are people trained to diagnose these things and even treat them!
                But we live in an age of DIY, and it’s so much more entertaining for us if we can explain the world and people around us in simple terms.
                “But I recognize the symptoms! I know a manic depressive when I see one!”
                Yes. Occasionally I’m a little . . . manic, but I’m certainly not manic depressive. A psychiatrist once diagnosed me as manic depressive and gave me meds to treat it. Turns out she was wrong, and I and the drugs had an extreme disagreement and I ended up . . . not in very good shape. And she was a professional . . . and still made the mistake. Why? Perhaps because I was under considerable stress and was both depressed at my situation and running around like a madwoman to try to control the situation. Turns out what I really needed was some time off.
                I do have depression. Not that I would diagnose anyone else with it, even being the expert I am just by living with it. So go ahead and diagnose me with that if you will, but please understand that even as a depressive, I’m not walking around under a black cloud and contemplating throwing myself off a building. I’m normally pretty freakin’ happy. That’s because I’m being treated for it, and I know the warning signs when I’m about to have a depressive episode, and I work really hard at not falling into the pit. I’ve had it for a very long time, and I’ve gotten much better at controlling it.
                Which does not mean that everyone can deal with it as I have, or that I’m any sort of expert in how it works, or what one should do. I know how to deal with it for me, and mental illness and disorders (for those who say, “Eeek!” when hearing mental illness), can be very complex. What works for one person . . . works for that one person.
                Sometimes people are just . . . people. Even with odd things going on in our heads, or not. I might regard the sanest person in the world as a little off, just because they’re different from what I expect. Shall I assign them a diagnosis so it’s easily explained? It would make my life easier.
                (However, just for the record, I live with the sanest person in the world, and if he’s off, it’s delightfully so.)
                The problem with assigning diagnoses to random people because we think we know what’s going on with them, besides the fact that we’re not qualified, is that we’re not looking at the whole person. We’re all much more than a single component, and there are a whole lot of things going on with us that can’t be easily categorized by assigning a random diagnosis. Sure, we like to think we’re in control, and we know things, but sometimes . . . we’re not, and we don’t.  
                It’s okay to not know what’s “wrong” with someone. Personally, I have enough of a challenge figuring out what’s up with ME.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crazy on Planes

Yesterday’s cursory review of the news was full of mental illness stories. If by full, I mean there were several. There were also the old standbys: War, famine, the economy, politics, but there were also stories of people lost in their own minds.

There was a video of a flight attendant losing it on a plane, before the plane was in the air. I clicked on the video, and watched several minutes of passengers holding up cell phones to capture the activity and the screaming as the flight attendant was restrained in the front of the plane. The passengers were avid to capture anything on their cell phones that they could, and occasionally they’d comment on what was going on. Also, occasionally, they’d laugh, as if something particularly amusing was happening.

Because there’s nothing funnier than witnessing a person losing their mind. I use the term “losing her mind” loosely, because I don’t know if she was, I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know what will happen to her. I do know, having witnessed such breaks myself, that for the person that it’s happening to, it’s pretty damn horrible. It’s frightening, it’s scary, and when it happens one can’t really imagine any other reality than the one that is happening right then, at that time, in that space. It is their reality, whether it bears any relation to reality as the rest of us would define it.

We are a wonderfully compassionate people.

We’re certain that sort of thing won’t happen to us because, after all, WE’RE not crazy. It only happens to crazies. Only other people. Is that why some of us laugh? Because we’re so safe in our own reality that we don’t need to consider those in pain as people just like us?

Sometimes when I’m in an uncomfortable situation I’ll laugh. If I’m nervous it relieves the tension, or it’s a nervous habit, or it’s one of the ways I cope with pain. Stew and I often laughed about his mental illness, but we were in the thick of it, not watching from a distance.

I don’t know why people laugh when someone else is in obvious pain. That’s what mental illness is, after all – it’s pain, and because it affects who we are, how we act, what we do, it scares us. It should scare us. it’s a scary thing. But it’s scariest for the person experiencing it, that much I’m sure of, as certain as I am that one should never end a sentence with a preposition.

I’d like to say we shouldn’t laugh at people in pain, but then I’d be accused of telling people how to act, and I don’t have that right. That’s true. But I would like to know why we laugh. As someone who has looked out over the precipice, I can’t imagine having the certainty that I would never have a loss of mental health. Maybe I’m missing something because of my brain chemistry (and here someone will tell me that there’s no such thing, but they can believe what they want and I’ll believe what I want), and maybe if I had that absolute certainty that crazy people are always someone else, then I  would understand.

As long as I’m on the subject, as much as we pity the mentally ill and tell ourselves we’re not like that, why do so many then want to characterize themselves as crazy? We try to  one-up each other with stories of how our family and friends are crazier than your family and friends . . . Maybe crazy is cool? As long as it doesn’t manifest itself as seeing things that aren’t there, magical thinking, major depressive episodes, mania, paranoia, psychosis . . .

We want to be crazy, but in a good way. But with crazy, you don’t get to choose, do you?

Should I ever have occasion to suspect I may become psychotic, I shall send out notices in advance in the hopes that everyone will gather round and capture the moment with their smart phones. So there’d be proof, because what fun is it being crazy if you can’t prove you really went there?

It’s like having your passport stamped when you’ve been to a country you didn’t really want to visit, but did anyway.

Do make sure I have your contact info on hand. You’d hate to miss it. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Word or Two About Colonoscopies

Two days ago I checked in for a routine colonoscopy and discovered, much to my surprise, that I am 54 years old. This was quite a shock, as I was fairly certain I was still 53. At this rate, I’ll be well on my way to 60 in no time at all. As it was, I hadn’t eaten for a day and a half and my digestive system had been going through hell since the night before, so I’m fairly certain I looked at least 54, maybe even 55.

Should I be sad about my impending old age? I mean, what’s the alternative? If I weren’t progressing chronologically I wouldn’t be alive, would I? So isn’t aging the better option?

I could be stubborn about the entire thing and claim that I want neither to be dead, nor to be aging, but that sort of viewpoint is rather illogical, isn’t it? It’s not as if mother nature is playing a cruel joke on me or anything. I’m fairly certain that everyone else is going through the same sort of thing – unless one’s a vampire, but then there’s whole “can’t be out in the sun” issue. I’m not sure it’d be a good trade-off.

It’s not the aging that bothers me, it’s the pain in my legs and being so tired I could really use a good nap right about now. Those things have nothing to do with age however, so I can’t lay the blame on the calendar, as much as I would like to blame someone.

But there are so many good things about aging! In no particular order:

  1.  No one expects me to look like I’m 20 anymore. This is good, since even at 20 I didn’t look like I was 20.
  2.  I’m wiser now than I was then. That’s not saying a hell of a lot, since being wise isn’t a) all it’s cracked up to be, and b) not something I’m really good at, even now. But still.
  3.  AARP has me on their radar and sends me lots of lovely junk mail.
  4. I can turn down invitations with “I’m old and feeble, and so therefore can’t go.” This usually gets me a disdainful look, but I’m too old to care.
  5. I can start planning for my retirement! You know, the one that I won’t be able to take for a good many years yet since I have a teeny little retirement account.
  6. I no longer have to wonder, “Should I have kids, or should I not?” Really, it’s sort of late to think of things like that.
  7. I get to have routine things like colonoscopies!

II   I think number 7 is definitely the best part of being older. I had so much fun not eating for a whole day, then ingesting vile fluid that turned my insides to fluid, which had to come out repeatedly over and over again all night, then the next morning, when I got to ingest more vile fluid. While I was doing so, I was thinking: Really? This is necessary? They can’t figure out a better way to take a look at things? This is modern medicine at its finest?

Everyone says a colonoscopy is no big deal. And they’re absolutely correct. It’s the prep that sucks the most, and the colonoscopy itself is a breeze, mostly because I had no idea what was going on when it was going on. Afterwards I was ready for a huge meal, and then a long nap.

I know what happens when one doesn’t get diagnosed in time, and so how important a colonoscopy is. My friend Stew, who stars in An Uncommon Friendship: a memoir of love, mental illness, and friendship, didn’t get one when he needed one, and he was only in his mid 30’s, so it hadn’t come up. Instead, he was subjected to all other kinds of tests and diagnoses and procedures, and by the time they got around to figuring out he had colon cancer, it was too late, and it had already spread to his liver. I watched from a distance as he grew worse, and then I was there with him for his last days, and I sat with him and told him everything would be okay.

“Okay” when one is dying doesn’t mean the same thing as when one is not dying.

For months he threw up everything he ate, and even during those last days, anything ingested came back up, even a few sips of a smoothie. We couldn’t even give him morphine orally because it would come up also. Instead, he received topical morphine, rubbed into his arm.

Here’s what I have to say about colonoscopies: If you’re of the age when you should be screened, get one. Seriously. It’s a major pain in the ass (pun intended), and I’m happy knowing I won’t have to do it for another ten years, but it’s better to find out if there’s something going on sooner rather than later. Early detection = better chance of beating it. This is coming from someone who tends toward the “whatever” philosophy regarding her own health, so if I were you, I’d listen.

I don’t want to watch anyone else die from colon cancer. I’d rather everyone get old with me.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Queen Gives Us A Scare

Our oldest dog, Honey, is 14 or so. She's aged very gracefully, much better than I have, and at the last vet visit was declared in fabulous health fora dog her age. Still, knowing she's 14, we're on the lookout for any signs that things may be going awry.

Going awry happens to all of us eventually, doesn't it?

Late last night we were hanging out on the couch, as we tend to do late at night when we're considering going to bed but not yet up to making the long trek up the stairs. Ash was probably laying next to me with his head in someone's lap, or close to it, probably me, since he finds me very comforting. We saw Honey get up from the carpet and walk towards the kitchen, behind us. She does this sort of thing all the time. "Should I lay here? Should I lie there?" She still has trouble with lay and lie, not knowing which is the appropriate word. It's okay -- she's a dog and not expected to have perfect grammar.

We heard her lay down, behind us, on the floor, which she seems to like because it's cool, and then we heard scrambling and thrashing.

Scrambling and thrashing are not sounds we're used to, though occasionally she slips on the hardwood floor and then tries to cover it up by acting as if she meant to do it all along. Andrew looked over the couch and I said, "What's going on over there?" I can't see back there because my head doesn't do 180 degree turns. I  blame my parents for not producing something more functional when they made me.

"I don't know," he said, "But . . . "

And then he jumped up and ran to her. "There's something wrong!"

I ran to her also, as did Ash, who regards Honey with all the reverence due a supreme being.

Her head was at an awkward angle, twisted so that her left eye appeared to be bulging because of the angle of her neck, and she looked desperate and unhappy and confused. We knelt by her and tried to move her head, but it wouldn't move, and her desperation didn't seem to be dissipating, despite the fact the three of us were standing over her like avenging angels. Of course, it wasn't avenging angels she needed, it was help of some sort, if only us stupid humans could figure it out.

"We need to take her to the vet," I said, and Andrew went looking for the number to the emergency vet.

We recently used the emergency vet when Ash consumed chocolate chocolate cake to celebrate my birthday, so we know which one to go to.

As Andrew looked up the info I stayed with Honey, and I petted her and told her everything was going to be okay. Then I looked at her as a whole, instead of focusing on her head and her bulging panicked eyes. "Hey," I said to the poor thing, "Where's your other leg?" I could see one back leg on the side she was laying on, it was right there where it was supposed to be, on the floor, but the other one, where was it? The one leg was there, but there should have been two legs. When last I saw her she had two back legs, not just one.

Did I mention that this year Honey has grown a fabulously healthy thick long coat? It's gold and soft and fabulous, and things can get lost in there.

Like legs.

I found her other back leg at her neck. She'd broken a toenail on that foot, and when she'd been scratching herself up at her neck, or ears, the toe had caught in some of that luxurious fur and was stuck there. My dog was not having a seizure, or an attack of some sort, and she wasn't anywhere close to being terminal. She just had her toe stuck to her fur, which was why her head was twisted to the side with the toe attached to it.

Oh sure, it's funny now.

I yelled out that she was fine, that I'd found the problem and what I really needed was a pair of scissors, because that fur was not going to be dislodged easily. Andrew couldn't find the scissors, and as he ran around looking for them I tried to separate her toe from the fur that was quite attached to it. Just as he gave up on the scissors and brought me a knife I separated the toe, with the hair coming loose in a big clump, and Honey was free.

She was shaking quite a bit by then, no doubt more alarmed by my panic than by the fact that her toe was stuck to her neck, so I sat down with her in the living room and we calmed each other down while I cut off the offending toenail. I tried another toenail as well, but she wasn't ready to have anything else done, so I made an appointment with her to do some more grooming on both toes and fur today. If she cancels on me she has to pay a cancellation fee.

She's fine, and she says the only problem is that she would like to have servants who are a bit quicker with a diagnosis. I told her too bad, she's stuck with us.