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: 0-486-41586-4

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

 

“…the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.”

-Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Writing in flannel.

Writing in flannel.

 

I went home this past week for an early Christmas. I don’t know how I managed it, but I was able to see just about everyone I love. I even squeezed in a trip to Hubbard, my high school, and bought sweat pants and a sweatshirt. If someone told me fifteen years ago I’d voluntarily wear the uniform, I would have laughed in his or her face. Fifteen years can really change a person.

I haven’t posted in a while. Don’t fret. I’ve been writing and reading, just not blogs. Today I was called to the desk to write for my dad.

Last Monday was the first time I saw him since I was sixteen.

Fifteen years ago, we parted on less than good terms. It doesn’t matter why we parted that way, only that we had. Six years ago, I heard that he was beaten and left for dead in Marquette Park. The phone call caught me off guard. I was in a place where my life had finally started to make sense. I had just started my MFA, was newly engaged, and happy. I answered the phone thinking my brother, J, was calling to congratulate me.

J told me that my father had been homeless and lived in the park. He was drunk and antagonized a group of youth, gang members, with racial slurs. My father was not expected to make it. I should come home and see him. The phone call left me angry. I told J my father was dead to me, and had been for years. J called me a bitch and we hung up.

I wished those kids had talked to my father and explained why some words were so hurtful or how many people had died over them in the past. I wished they asked him not to use such words, and he instantly rid his vocabulary of them. I know how hard it is to do the right thing in a highly charged emotional moment. I don’t always do the right thing. I’m still learning, too.

A few weeks ago, I told Husband I wanted to see my father again. Husband wondered why after fifteen years I wanted to resume a relationship. Understandably, he was protective of me. The last time I went home I had a small relapse when I was caught off guard by another piece of my past.

ME: I just don’t want that to be the end of the story. When I have children, I want them to know their grandpa. I don’t want to tell them this terrible story of how we parted. I want it to be different.

I was prepared for the worst. My father had suffered severe brain trauma. He was a known alcoholic and drug user. There was something with a long technical term that chronic alcoholics can suffer from in which they have no short-term memory. It’s like a blackout, explained my therapist, T; he may have no recollection of meeting you. There’s a possibility he may not know you.

I called my sister-cousin, D, and asked her if she knew anyone from the old neighborhood who could find my father. She called M. M called a family friend, “born-again” L. He contacted some of the beat police in the area where he thought my father lived. After three days, L learned that my father lived in a shady house, essentially a crack house. L said the house was rough; he once lived in it at his lowest point before he turned himself around. It was in a less than great part of town. L said he could bring my father to a safer meeting place.

Monday came, and L couldn’t make it. I still wanted to see my dad, so I asked D if she would take the train with me. After an hour and a half of travel on the CTA, it turned out my father wasn’t staying in the worst part of town. He lived in my old neighborhood. We knocked on a door to a house that didn’t look shady from the outside other than a foreclosure sticker on the front door. No one answered. We called the landlord for the building. She hadn’t heard of the person we were asking for. We called L one more time. The landlord called back and said my dad was at a bus stop across from Walgreens.

Everyone told me to be prepared, to know what it was I wanted to say to my dad, to know what I wanted to get from this meeting. When I saw him, I said the only thing I could think to say.

ME: Hey old man.

I hugged him. Glad he was still alive.

We both cried until we laughed.

We went to a small restaurant. I had tacos. He had a burrito. I don’t remember what D had. I did my best to catch him up on my life. He did the same. He said when he got the call from L he stayed sober for our meeting. He didn’t do hard drugs anymore. He didn’t drink hard liquor, only beer, at night to help him fall asleep. He was waiting on his social security so he could put a down payment on a house or maybe an apartment. He spent the days helping others when he could, shoveling snow and whatnot. The folks in the elderly home had given him a chair to sit on at the bus stop. He fed the sparrows. He tried to keep busy. He could only listen to music and watch TV so much before he got bored.

He told me he wasn’t jumped in the park. He said he went to help a man push his car out of the snow behind Walgreens, and when he went to help him, he was smashed in the head with a bottle and beaten. His assailants got thirty dollars.

I wish they had just asked for his thirty dollars. Sometimes when I see people pan handling on the street I give them money. I can’t help it. They’re asking. If they spend the money on bus fare or drugs, that’s a problem as society we have to fix together. They’re still asking, not mugging, not robbing.

My father showed me a thin line that extended ear to ear on the back of his neck. It was his scar from brain surgery.

The things I wanted to say were slow coming. I was nervous and anxious to get back to a normal relationship with him. We went to a thrift store in search of an ugly Christmas sweater. We wandered through the isles.

ME: Should I get this withered Nome that looks remarkably similar to Wizzo and contains the soul of a wealthy Egyptian Pharos waiting for a body? It probably was accidently lost to the family sworn to protect it…

Dad: Sure. Everyone needs a souvenir.

I put Wizzo back on the shelf. I had already gotten a T-shirt with thirteen hidden horses as a souvenir earlier in the trip. I asked him if he wanted any clothes. He said he had a whole box full. People gave them to him. He still collected flannels.

I didn’t want our meeting to end. I dragged him to a dollar store and demanded he purchase some beef jerky and books, another small Christmas present to go along with what I had originally brought him: a copy of his father’s manuscript and a story I wrote for him.

He threw in a chocolate bar that donated money to literacy. What the hell. It was Christmas after all. I pulled him into the post office where we got some Ray Charles stamps, so he could write me.

ME: That’ll give you something to do when you’re bored.

I stumbled through his world until I got back on the bus with a hurried Merry Christmas thrown over my shoulder. There were so many other words I wanted to say, but did not know how. It wasn’t until the plane ride home that I started to untangle what had happened. What I truly wanted to say.

Dad,

Your story does not begin with the reason you were jumped. It starts when a stranger found you on the ground, near dead.

I ask myself, who that stranger was. Did she happen to own a small restaurant, make tacos and burritos and keep a ton of plants? Did I throw a thank you over my shoulder as we walked out because whatever I felt inside I did not know how to say? It could have been anyone who called for you. Could have been a bus driver. Could have been an employee at Walgreens. Could have been someone old. Could have been someone young.

Who was the emergency dispatcher that took that call?

Who drove the ambulance that took you to the hospital?

Who were the first cops on the scene?

Who was the brain surgeon that performed your operations?

Did they know they’d probably never get paid monetarily for their work?

Did they know if the person on their operating table had insurance?

I bet they didn’t even question it.

Who was the first person you saw when you opened your eyes?

Who really sat by your bed for four months?

Who helped you learn to walk and talk again?

Who told you to keep going when I’m sure you may not have wanted to?

Who gave you the clothes that kept you warm?

Who ran the food pantries that now fed you?

Do these people know I wanted to thank you for all you did for me when I was growing up? You let me paint my room green and built floor to ceiling bookshelves in there for your paperbacks. I remember your paperbacks, covers with Conan the Barbarian and scantily clad women cowering behind sword wielding men with way too much dragon in the background. I look back and think in your own way you were trying to surround me with the things you loved. You should see my bookshelves now. I bought forty-seven books only yesterday from the thrift store. Seven cents each. Three rooms in my house are painted green.

Did you know I still remember the Christmas Eve you walked a mile in the snow to the only place open, Walgreens, to get me an alarm clock?

Who worked that Christmas Eve shift when they could have been home with their own families?

Do all these people know that they kept you alive so I could thank you?

Do all these people know we are connected?

Do all these people know how grateful I am?

Do they know that I don’t only think about it when I’m on buses or airplanes?

Dad, did you know I saw you in a stranger’s eyes a few months ago? I told myself that stranger wasn’t you—I only wanted to see you.

Because of all those people I was able to.

Dad, do you know life is not about the past or the future but the moment in which we live?

I think you do.

I may throw “Thank you” and “Merry Christmas” over my shoulder, but I’m not too busy to know what they really mean. Dad, I know how hard it was for you to see me. If we had fought during our meeting, it could have led to a relapse on your part, too.

Do the people that brought us back together know that I have a good story to tell your grandchildren someday?

I hope they do.

I love you. Thank you.

It reads "thanks"

We as a society are doing our best to address the problem of homelessness in America. I was once told if one person in the world loves you don’t give up, you have a reason not to be homeless. Below is a list of resources supported by thousands of people that love and care for those in rough situations. There is no choice so bad that one can’t recover from it.

 

 

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

 

Homeless Shelters Directory

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

Street Wise

http://streetwise.org/

SAMSHA

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

US Department of Health and Human Services

http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Alcoholics Anonymous

http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=28

Narcotics Anonymous

http://www.na.org/

NAMI

National Alliance on Mental Illness

www.nami.org

United States Department of Labor

http://www.dol.gov/dol/audience/aud-homeless.htm

If you or someone you know would like to donate items, money, or time, thousands of shelters across America are in need.

I found this list on Sojourner’s* website  as an example of items that may be needed in local shelters near you.

Monetary donations:

 

$35.00

Helps offset costs of children’s activity groups

$55.00

Helps to feed shelter residents for one day

$250.00

Supports time required to obtain an Order for Protection

 

Goods:

-Diapers and Pull-Ups

-Clothing: Contact for specific needs

-African-American Hair Products. Recommended brands include: Ultra Sheen, Pink Lotion, Motions, Cream of Nature, Do Grow, Super Grow, Olive Oil. We’ve found that Walgreens carries the following at very good prices: Organica Hair Food, Shea Butter, Africa’s Best and Coconut Hair Oil.

-Baby wipes (Sensitive Skin)

-Cleaning Supplies (especially bleach, dish soap, floor cleaner and multi-purpose cleaning liquid)

-Paper Products: Paper towels, plates, bowls, etc.

-Twin Sized Plastic Mattress Covers

-Tampons

-Women’s Socks and underwear

-Bulk sized non-perishable healthy snacks (fruit snacks, granola bars, juice boxes, etc)

-Office Supply Gift Cards

-Target Gift Cards

*Sojourner is a local woman and children’s shelter in MN. For specific donations to Sojourner, please call the Program Support Coordinator at 952-351-4062.

**Whenever I go on trips I stock up on all the free lotions, shampoos, etc. By the end of the year I bring them in to the shelter. I heard you can drop off these items at REI and they will pass the donations on for you.

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Filed under Books, Growing up, Holidays, Homelessness, Life, Literature, Love, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Politics, Random, Snow, Writing

ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-8441-7

The Elephant's Secret Sense by Caitlin O'Conell

The Elephant’s Secret Sense by Caitlin O’Conell

Because my blog posts have morphed into some strange hybrid of diary entry and book review, I wanted a model of a classic essay to see just how far off the beaten path of the modern essay I’ve veered. I selected “Shooting An Elephant,” by George Orwell as my example. It was written in 1936, so it seemed classic.

I barely made it though the shooting of an elephant part.

There are things to be said about that essay, building up to the shooting, tragedy of experience, and the truth of the event. Not all writers can make themselves go to the dark places they’d rather forget—or ignore.

It gave me a better glimpse than I had before of the real nature of imperialism—the real motives for which despotic governments act.”

As I read the essay, I thought of all the elephant facts I knew: elephants bury their dead and have graveyards, elephants greet each other, elephants have matriarchs, elephants communicate via feet. Via feet? Wait. Had I remembered that correctly?

It’s not a far-fetched concept. My chair, desk, and entire house have vibrated around me for the last month while workers repave the road in front of my house. Sitting at my desk today is akin to using one of those feet massage machines at Brookfield Zoo. Only difference is I don’t have to pay a dollar for the experience. Husband pays several thousand dollars in taxes over the next ten years. Point being, I know what’s happening without hearing or seeing it.

After a trip to the library, I found out that, yes indeed, elephants do communicate via vibrations in the ground. It’s called seismic communication. Caitlin O’Connell was the first scientist to document and test this phenomenon in elephants. And <<bonus>> she wrote a book about it: The Elephant’s Secret Sense, The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa.

CO first studied bugs. Hawaiian planthoppers to be exact. The subtle difference between vibrations detected by a planthopper on a leaf and vibrations detected by me at the desk is that the large machinery in front of my house does not intend to mate with me. At least I hope not.

Some seventy years after GO’s essay, those pesky elephants were still up to their crop-raiding-civilization-destroying antics. After her bug work, CO was hired to study the behavior of elephants with the hope of using research to help farmers deter them. She noticed some of the same behaviors of the planthoppers in elephants and set up experiments to prove her theory.

What were the odds that CO would have the opportunity to study both planthoppers and elephants and have the ability to recognize similar patterns between the two? While that is a riveting question, I will have to leave it to a statistician, as it is not the focus of this essay. And according to CO’s book:

My challenge as a scientist wasn’t that there weren’t enough interesting questions to ask but that I would have to remain focused on the first question and find the answer while being open to the next question presenting itself.”

My original question: how far have I veered from the modern essay?

Next question: is there an example of an essay that answers this question?

Next question: what does imperialism have to do with a dead elephant?

Next question: can elephants communicate with their feet?

Next question: what will I have for lunch?

Next question: what do bugs have to do with elephants?

Next question: what do elephant’s feet have to do with imperialism?

Next question: why would anyone want to be a statistician?

Next question: how far have I veered from my original question?

Next question: can I apply reading about elephants to essay writing in general?

The modern and classic essays are both forms of communication that take one small experience and apply it to a larger concept. Except in a modern essay I can get away with stating I had an ice cream cone and a cup of tea for lunch if readers understand how much I have veered without explicitly stating it.

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Filed under Animals, Books, Funny, humor, Life, Non Fiction, Random

ISBN: 978-0-399-15901-5

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

 

I had the great idea to discuss Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson via text message with D.

 

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Apparently we did this stuff when D came to visit:

 

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Yeah, that's shotgun shells.

Yeah, that’s shotgun shells.

 

This plays music.

This plays music.

 

Back to the book:

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You know what? Let’s not talk about the book. Let’s talk about my life instead.

It’s my birthday week, and I can’t go hiking today as planned. Does it matter that I’ve already gone to see Cirque Du Soleil’s Almaluna?

No.

But one may say, there were peacock feathers, light up nunchucks, the god and goddess of the wind, a lady with a cello that came down from the ceiling, a male pole dancer, a reptile juggling fire, an all women rock band. I had a stale pretzel and bought the CD, commemorative tote, and program with delightful photographs.

So.

Does it count that I went to a thrift store that sold items by the pound and nearly got knocked over by a crowd of professional thrift shoppers that swarmed the bins like angry box elder bugs? Or that I bought a hideous green floral coat with a faux fur collar missing a belt and button that is slightly soiled and two sizes too big out of sheer excitement that I could buy clothing by the pound? The type of coat any pimpess would be proud to flaunt? And what about the worn leather purse I got for only $1.50?

Try again.

What about the sushi?

I eat sushi for breakfast.

Does it matter that I went to the Soap Factory haunted house  and they made me wear headgear and a jump suit because I would jack up my clothes and possibly hurt my face because the haunted house is that intense? Or that I cried the safe word after getting through only two rooms because the actors could touch you and I was separated from the herd only to be told to go into a dark room when I am terrified of the dark? TERRIFIED OF THE DARK.

Not really.

Even though I was taken to Insidious 2 immediately after to make up for the fact that I was only in the haunted house for 7 minutes?

Nope.

Or that tomorrow I will go to a small town where I plan to hit up every antique store and try not to purchase any books, even though the books will smell like old books which is really mildew, and if I don’t buy the books I can still stand there in the store and huff the books until someone drags me away? And that very same night I’m going to stay in the supposedly most haunted hotel in all of Minnesota?

Not even close.

Okay, how about the fact that I plan on spending the ENTIRE day of my actual birthday writing so I can finish a draft of a short story I’ve been working on for a month that I thought I could bang out in a weekend? There will be ice cream cake . . .

Pssssssshhhhttttt.

The George Saunders reading on Thursday?

No! No! No!

I have to use up the parks pass that I bought for $25. This means I need to hit up a park at least five times this year. I only went once and it’s already October. I want to feel the “WOW” of fall! I want changing leaves! I want to go hiking!

I want to go hiking for ten minutes and then piss and moan that it’s raining and freezing cold. After which, I buy post cards from the gift shop because, yes, parks in Minnesota have gift shops. Sometimes people forget to bring their pocket knifes. Or those little metal sticks for roasting marshmallows. If you forget the marshmallow sticks, you’re up ship’s creek without a paddle.

Now I can’t do that because the government, which I thought was essentially open all the time like a 7 eleven, is closed. As the Colbert Report pointed out this morning, Smokey the Bear is out of a job. Only I can prevent forest fires people! How can I prevent forest fires if I’m not in the forest today?

You’re lame government. Not only are you ruining my birthday week, but you’re messing up other people’s lives, too. Don’t worry government. As pointed out on JL’s blog—

WE GOT THIS.

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REVELATIONS

 

The Bible In 90 Days New International Version

The Bible In 90 Days New International Version

SPOILER ALERT! There’s a dragon! This post is about the end of a book. If you haven’t read it and want to be surprised, see ya next week. Also, none of my Bibles have an ISBN number, and I’m learning the proper capitalization of G/god so by all means correct me in the comments.

I first read some of the Bible at the tender age of five in Catechism classes. Between cutting out animals for the great flood gluing them to straws to perform a mini puppet show and being told that I was preparing to “marry” God at my First Communion, I distinctly remember being cast out of class for asking logical questions. What does God eat for breakfast? If God made us in His likeness and I’m a girl, then why is God a boy and not a girl? Why would God give me the ability to ask questions if He didn’t want me to ask questions? Who is God’s God? Does God wear underwear? Adults never had answers. LAME.

Twenty years later, I thought it would be a good idea to finish the book. I bought The Bible In 90 Days, New International Version. Ninety days?! I assumed it would take me three years to read such a thick book with such little font. Four months later, I was knee deep in Deuteronomy with some new questions. Why haven’t I seen Jesus, yet? He’s like the main character, shouldn’t he have been introduced in the first chapter? Who wrote this? It’s pretty ambitious… Surely there must be a History Channel special that covers this in one hour.

Five years, several Ancient Aliens programs, and one MFA later, I decided to pick up the good book once more beginning with the end.

The first reason I started with Revelations: It’s a good contrast to the last post. I’m not sure if anyone around here has noticed, but I suffer from Catholic guilt. There’s this creepy underlying theme of my ‘given’ (not chosen) religion that if you sin you must seek forgiveness IMMEDIATELY. YOU WILL BURN IN THE ETERNAL FLAMES OF HELL if you veer from His Plan. Also, His Plan may or may not equal your ETERNAL BURNING from the jump. Those who claim the book is only about love obviously haven’t read the end. That joke will cost me ten Hail Marys. I feel bad for thinking it. Even worse for writing it. Can I get some sunscreen over here?

The second reason I started with the end: I felt it would be a good reference for my big project. I wondered what the epic battle/end was to the number one best selling book of all time. As a non-judgmental person, I wanted to know more about the ultimate judgment. Plus, the project has me attempting to create two imaginary worlds, each with their own imaginary creatures. My guess was that there were bound to be one or two imaginary creatures somewhere in there.

I was not disappointed. Let me just say that the four horsemen are just the tip of the iceberg. There are four creatures covered in eyes with six wings that chant day and night! There’s a zombie Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes! Locusts with man faces, woman hair, lion teeth, and the ability to sting like a scorpion! Horses with lion heads, fire breath, and snake tails! A sea beast with ten horns, seven heads, that look kinda like a leopard but have bear paws and a lion mouth! Did I mention the DRAGON?!

If I were work shopping it, this would be my critique: On the whole this is a pretty solid piece. I liked your use of the first person, third may have given it too much distance. You know, for me, I’m thinking the story really starts after the notes to the seven churches, so you could probably cut them out. The part I found least believable, aside from a wrathful God destroying nonbelievers, was that future people would leave two dead bodies in the street for days. Have we learned nothing from the Bubonic Plague? That’s just giving pestilence the green light. Also, the only woman you have in the story is a drunken adulterous blood-drinking prostitute. Sometimes less is better. I mean this is fine, she’s definitely an interesting character, but consider giving her even more depth by adding a few positive traits. I like that you kept the ending upbeat, giving those in Hades a second chance. The city made of gold was the perfect way to symbolize the greed of humanity and how we changed, but not really. Classic. With a few more drafts and a bit of trimming, I could totally see this getting published in the New Yorker. Totally!

Wait. What? This is nonfiction? John was your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great a whole lot of greats grandfather? Are you enacting creative license with the use of the first person or did you find his stone tablet diary in a cave? It was a scroll in some pottery? Okay, well this changes things. Yeah, I mean forget what I said about the female character. If she honestly was a drunken adulterous blood-drinking prostitute, then yeah, I mean you’re bound to the limits of what really happened. Otherwise this would be fiction, which, obviously it is not. You know what? You got a good story here. You don’t need to sensationalize it.

THE END

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