Tag Archives: mental-health

WeekEND Reading: Mira T. Lee talks about her luminous family saga, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, touching on sisters, mental illness, immigration, and so much more. Plus, her inspiring TBR, and how fiction is a great place to develop empathy and reconcile nuances

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A brave, unflinching debut about the tenuous bonds of mental illness, how we define ‘family,’ immigration, and so much more. 

Everything Here Is Beautiful
EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL is one of those literary masterpieces that will captivate and enthrall readers everywhere, perhaps for very different reasons. There’s so much about this book I love–the razor-sharp writing, the way I was transported to another world (South America/Ecuador, Switzerland), and back again (NYC, Minnesota), and then there’s the breadth of scope: mental illness, sisters, love, who we call ‘family,’ life and death, as well as loss and rejuvenation.

Told in alternating, highly distinct POVs from several main characters: Miranda: the older sister who has always been the “responsible one”; Lucia: whose free-spirited nature is dampened by her mental illness; Yonah: the Israeli shopkeeper and first husband of Lucia; Manuel: Lucia’s boyfriend, and father of her child.

EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL may be best described as a literary family drama (spanning years and continents) with a mental illness theme (and its butterfly93.jpgtreatment) as well as an immigration (and cultural displacement) undercurrent. 

I’m in awe with Mira T. Lee’s ambitious novel. I found it emotional and touching, raw and brave, and skillfully drawn. EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL is about trying to do our best without fully losing ourselves. 

I am thrilled and honored to welcome Mira to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay: I just finished reading EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL and I have so many thoughts rumbling around. This is a very multilayered, complex novel, but it’s so well done. I have to ask: what sparked this particular tale, why now?

Mira T. Lee: Hi Leslie, thank you so much for your kind words! So I started off writing short stories, and found that many of them dealt with the same recurring themes – family dynamics, illness, the interplay of different cultures. One story in particular, How I Came to Love You Like A Brother (published by The Missouri Review) contained characters I loved, who I knew I could develop further. Then when my kids were very young, I went through a fallow period where I didn’t write for almost two years, but I had a series of predicaments brewing in my head. I’ve always been drawn to “gray areas,” those murky kinds of situations where good people are in conflict with each other even though no one’s at fault, and I’m forced to see things from more than one person’s perspective. By the time my younger son turned one, I was ready to write, and what emerged was this big, messy, cross-cultural family drama that explored several different relationships, and how the ripple effects of mental illness test family bonds.

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L.L.: Much of the book deals with what it’s like to have a mental illness—and what it’s like to love someone with a mental illness—I so appreciate both of those perspectives because they are often not explored in literature (though we often see the manifestations of ‘crazy behavior’). You take a slightly different angle, that of a more interior experience of mental illness. Can you expand on that, please?

Mira T. Lee: I’ve seen mental illness up close through the struggles of my own loved ones, and I’ve also heard countless stories of mental illness in family support groups I’ve attended. From these experiences I can say that psychotic illnesses (like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder differ from most physical illnesses in one very significant way: the patient, loved ones, and medical professional(s) often disagree on what should be done. Sometimes this is because the patient doesn’t believe they have an illness at all, other times it may be because they disagree with the recommended treatments.  This makes for a tremendous amount of conflict, and creates situations that are fraught and intractable, with no clear right or wrong answers. I wanted to explore multiple sides of multiple conflicts, so this involved delving into the interiors of my main characters and understanding their frustrations, as well as embedding Lucia’s illness within broader storylines. You’re right, the issues involved with psychotic illnesses (e.g. medications, “lack of insight”) are rarely explored in literature – it’s not that surprising, because they’re tough concepts to understand, but that’s part of the reason I felt compelled to tell this story.

L.L.: Along those lines, I really like how you’ve taken the experience of mental illness and shifted it culturally from a white, middle-class incident to that of someone who is Chinese-American. Sadly, mental illness does not discriminate, yet it’s often not represented in other demographics. How did that come about in EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL?

Mira T. Lee: Narratives of mental illness (both memoir and fiction) have been getting a lot more attention in general, which is fantastic, but most do still center around white, middle-class families. I think partly this is because stigma can be especially strong in non-white communities. I didn’t set out to explore mental illness in communities of color, but I’m Chinese-American myself, and multicultural worlds like the ones in the book are what’s most familiar to me. I do hope conversations around the topic become less taboo.

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L.L.: My own mother (white, middle-class), had schizoaffective/bipolar with psychotic features/narcissist personality disorder…I saw many of her symptoms overlap with Lucia’s. Yet in the narrative, the diagnosis is a bit abstract. Was this intentional on your part?

Mira T. Lee: Yes, the vagueness was intentional for a couple of reasons. First, diagnoses often fluctuate from one doctor to the next and change over time, and nowadays schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar with psychotic features are often thought of as being on one continuous spectrum (rather than discrete illnesses). Second, I didn’t want this novel to be pigeonholed as a “mental illness book” or Lucia to be thought of only as “that schizophrenic woman.” There is so much stigma attached to those labels, and so many preconceived notions about what they mean. So by foregoing clear labels, I hope readers will be more open to seeing Lucia as an individual, and will come to understand the illness in the context of her entire life, as well as the lives of the people who love her most. I do hope this book will reach readers who might not typically pick up a “mental illness book.”

“A tender but unflinching portrayal of the bond between two sisters—one that’s frayed by mental illness and stretched across continents, yet still endures. With ventriloquistic skill, Mira T. Lee explores the heartache of loving someone deeply troubled and the unbearable tightrope-walk between holding on and letting go.”

–Celeste Ng, New York Times bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere and
Everything I Never Told You

L.L.: I know you’ve said you don’t want this book to be ‘about’ mental illness and here, I’ve asked all kinds of questions about that very theme! There’s also immigration, cultural differences and displacement. Those are some big issues and yet they’re handled so well. How did you structure this novel? Did you know ahead that this was the direction you were headed, or did it sort of evolve?

Mira T. Lee: Oh, that’s okay! I think you’re right in saying that this book appeals to different readers for different reasons. Some people gravitate toward the bond between the sisters, others to Lucia’s struggle to balance family and career, still others to the sisters’ relationships with the men in their lives. One interesting thing I’ve found is that I can almost always tell whether a reader has had personal experience with mental illness by the way they comment on the book. It just hits differently, and I’m glad for that. I hope the book finds its way to many more readers like you!

But back to your question: the novel evolved pretty organically. I rarely sat around making conscious decisions about who my characters were or what the plot would be. I also never consciously thought about “big issues” like immigration or cultural displacement, or wrote with any kind of agenda, for example, around mental illness. People from all different backgrounds have always been a staple of my adulthood, so to me, my characters are very much a reflection of America. My focus was purely on exploring how my characters would cope with the dilemmas they faced, and how their decisions would affect their relationships with the people they loved. I always thought of this as an intimate family story – albeit a messy one!

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L.L.: I could probably ask questions all day, but I won’t. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Something you hope others take away from reading EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL?

Mira T. Lee: I do hope readers will gain a sense of the issues surrounding schizophrenia, which is perhaps still the most severe and stigmatized of all the mental illnesses, but one deserving of just as much compassion. And I hope people see that these illnesses are only one component of a person’s life, and can relate to the humanity at the core of each of these characters – as sisters, mothers, husbands, lovers, as modern women, as deeply flawed human beings who yearn for love and belonging. But most of all, I hope readers will disagree over what these characters should or shouldn’t have done. The world is gray, full of ambiguity. Where is the line between adventure and recklessness? Compromise and resignation? Selfishness and self-preservation? Fiction is a great place to examine nuances, and to challenge ourselves to exercise our powers of empathy.

L.L.: What’s on your TBR list for 2018?

Mira T. Lee: My TBR list is ridiculously long. Anne Raeff’s Winter Kept Us Warm, Elizabeth Strout’s Anything Is Possible, Jillian Medoff’s This Could Hurt, Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Claire Goenawan’s Rainbirds, Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy, for starters. I wish I could spend an entire year just reading!

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L.L.: Oh, and one last question: are you working on anything new?

Mira T. Lee: I have bits and pieces of a few different projects, including some childrens’ picture books. We’ll see what happens…

For more information about the book, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, please see:

Mira T. Lee - © Liz Linder PhotographyABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mira T. Lee’s work has been published in numerous quarterlies and reviews, including The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, and Triquarterly. She was awarded an Artist’s Fellowship by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2012, and has twice received special
mention for the Pushcart Prize. She is a graduate of Stanford University, and
currently lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is her debut novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Viking/Penguin/Random House and used with permission. ‘Stop the Stigma’ from, ‘Family Drama’  from ‘Empathy and compassion’ image from, winter reading  from  , butterful image from, all retrieved on 1.08.18]

Wednesdays with Writers: Ali Land talks about her time as a mental health nurse in the U.K., her ‘insatiable curiosity’ about people, female serial killers, nature vs. nurture, the stress of writing a second book, and more in her international bestseller, GOOD ME BAD ME

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Is it nature or nurture? That’s the overarching question in this debut psychological thriller about a female serial killer and her daughter. 
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When I heard about GOOD ME BAD ME, I knew I had to get my hands on it. So when the publisher reached out with a gorgeous copy (seriously, this is an exquisite package), I was thrilled.

Annie (who now goes by Milly) is 15 and living with a foster family. Her mother is a serial killer awaiting trial. After turning her mother into the police, Milly must start fresh. Living with Mike, a psychologist, his yoga-loving (though emotionally absent wife) and snarky teenage daughter, Phoebe, Milly is doing the best she can to adjust to life without her mother, a new school, and a new identity.

Told in a voice-y dialogue from the POV of a 15 year old, GOOD ME BAD ME straddles the YA genre with that of a psychological thriller. Rest assured, there are many adult themes in this book; it is not a book for younger readers.

The writing is edgy and emotional. While not horribly graphic in detail (not a horror in that sense), the acts committed to children are unspeakable and could cause triggers for some. I found GOOD ME BAD ME complex, chilling, and insightful in terms of a teenage voice plagued by mental illness.

I am so honored to welcome Ali Land to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Ali, when I read that you were a mental health nurse working with children in the U.K., I was hooked. Reading and writing has always been a love of mine, but like you, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. I find the mind such a fascinating tangle. What ultimately inspired, your career in mental health?

Ali Land: Hi Leslie, thanks for having me on your blog! I had an insatiable curiosity about people and their minds from a very young age. I grew up in a boarding school and found it fascinating observing the different ways my friends reacted to the same situation. As I hit my teenage years the observing morphed into a desire to understand the ‘why’s’ – why was a person sad enough to harm themselves, why were they scared, why did one of my closest friends at school stop eating. I wanted to help. Specialising in children’s mental health felt very natural for me, being able to use stories and play and the therapeutic conversations I had with the adolescents will never leave me, in fact, one conversation in particular I had with a teenage girl formed the basis of GOOD ME BAD ME.

L.L.: I know there are plenty of memorable patients from my years as a psychiatric nurse. In fact, I’ve tried (and failed) writing a novel involving one. What inspired GOOD ME BAD ME? And what were some of your challenges?

Ali Land: Years ago I looked after a teenage girl who no longer wanted to live. Her mother had been involved in the serious harm of young children and the girl was convinced she would end up doing the same as her mother. The notion of living with a parental legacy of evil haunted me. The burden this girl, and other children I
looked after, carried, was so apparent. In addition to that I witnessed young people taking on traits of, not just the adults around them, but the absent parents too, the one’s they hadn’t seen since they were babies. Was this girl right? Can the apple ever fall far from the tree? How much choice do we have about who we become? Over the years those questions grew arms and legs inside of me and when I couldn’t hold them in any longer, the first draft of GOOD ME BAD ME was born. 

images (24)The challenges in writing the story were great. Initially I found it hard to talk about the book without crying. I worried I might further isolate children like my main character, Milly, by using the medium of a thriller to push the nature/nurture debate. The idea of using the realities of damaged young people and turning it into entertainment is something I feel very strongly about. My main priority was facilitating an authentic experience, one that would allow readers to inhabit the mind and body of a child who has a complex and disturbing past, and to illustrate that simply desiring to be good isn’t enough. I strived really hard to write GOOD ME BAD ME in a way that ensures it’s thrilling enough so readers have to keep turning the pages, but moving enough so they would want to discuss it afterwards. When readers contact me to tell me I’ve achieved that, that for me is the biggest reward.It tore out of me in five months.

L.L.: Female serial killers are pretty rare. You mention this in GOOD ME BAD ME, but just how rare are they? What kind of research did you do to write this story?

Ali Land: I don’t know that much about female serial killers other than they often operate in co-dependent relationships with men, Rosemary West and Myra Hindley immediately coming to mind. It was a conscious decision I made not to research female killers because the point of the book is that the reader’s eye is on Milly, the daughter. It’s her story. Many people comment on the fact I never name her serial killer mother but I do, only once, with the majority of readers missing it as was my intention. I view my writing as an extension of my nursing and I felt it was my responsibility to focus, not on the crimes, but on the aftermath and the teenager left behind.

 L.L.:  There are so many issues and concepts in GOOD ME BAD ME from the foster system, bullying, nature vs. nurture, mental health, suicide, and more. What do you hope readers take away from Milly’s experience?

Ali Land: Two things. Firstly, an authentic and compassionate understanding of the psychological processes a child such as Milly endures. And secondly, that although nature/nurture has always, and will always be the greyest of grey areas and even if it seems futile at points, we should never stop trying to understand or care for our young people, the product of both their environment and their genes.

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L.L.: What’s obsessing you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Ali Land: Brexit and my second book. Brexit because, well, it’s a horrible reality that instead of the world becoming more united, the opposite seems to be happening. And my second book because 2017, my debut year, has been pretty stellar and it’s hard not to feel paralyzed by what’s next. I used to say to the kids I looked after as a mental health nurse, ‘just do your best and don’t forget to breathe,’ and I’m trying very hard to take my own advice as I begin climbing the mountain of my second book.

L.L.: Ali, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Ali Land: Not at all, your questions were wonderful, thank you, but if I may, I’d love to add this:

To all the writers out there. I did it and you can too. Read lots, write lots and never give up!

~Ali x

For more information, to connect with Ali via social media, or to purchase a copy of GOOD ME BAD ME, please see:

Copyright lauralewisphotography.co.uk Ali Land 2 0588 2AUTHOR BIO: After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali spent a decade working as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse in both hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia. Though a voracious reader from a young age and a keen observer of the world, it took Ali over thirty years to put pen to paper but she sure is glad she did! Ali’s debut novel Good Me Bad Me is an international bestseller and will be translated into twenty-three languages. It was short-listed for The Most Unreliable Narrator at the Dead Good Reader Awards, short-listed by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasey New Blood Dagger and won Book Of The Year at Heat magazine Unmissables Awards. It’s also a New York Times Editors choice and a Richard and Judy book club pick. Ali is now a full-time writer and lives in London and is currently working on her second novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media platforms:


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[Cover and author image courtesy of Flatiron Books and used with permission. Author image credit: Laura Lewis Photography. Nature vs. Nurture image from. Mental Health Nurse image from zazzle.com. Book wreath from L.Lindsay’s personal archives]

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Author Kathryn Craft of THE FAR END OF HAPPY

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By Leslie Lindsay

You may know her from her January 2014 fluid, lyrical debut about a dancer, THE ART OF FALLING.

FAR END OF HAPPYHer second novel, THE FAR END OF HAPPY (May 2015) takes us on a poignant and emotionally charged glimpse into an unraveling marriage, the sadness draped around the characters like a shroud, and the hope that everything will work out in the end. It’s a tough read for the subject matter alone: suicide. But it’s the tenderness and compassion Craft brings to the narrative that will have you walking away feeling a strange brew of optimism.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Kathryn. I’m so honored to have you on the blog today. I guess I have to start with the obvious: THE FAR END OF HAPPY is based on an event in your life: your own ex-husband’s suicide. What a challenging topic—and how did you decide on the structure of the novel, i.e. why fiction over a memoir?

Kathryn Craft: Hi Leslie, thanks so much for having me here. The answers to the two parts of your question are interrelated. In the seventeen years since my husband died I’ve drafted a lot of memoir in the form of essays, blog posts, and what I came to think of as chapters. I came to realize, though, that there was no way I could write about my early marriage without the foreknowledge of the standoff to come. I’d think, “Were there clues here?” Once my fiction career powered up I started to think more creatively about a structure that would evoke the way the standoff had seared itself into my consciousness. Constraining story events to its twelve hours seemed the best way.

​​​Kathryn Craft author

I also came to believe that writing from one point of view would make it seem as if the suicide had happened only to me, which was not my experience. I knew for a fact that many people in my community, even strangers, were deeply affected. These two choices—the twelve hour structure and the three point-of-view characters—planted my feet firmly in the realm of fiction, even though my intent was to seek a greater truth.

L.L.: In the back of the book, you answer some questions about what was really true and what had been fictionalized, including your name. In fact, you maintain that you are *not* Ronnie, yet you are both very much alike. In what ways are you like Ronnie and in what ways do you differ?

Kathryn Craft: Most of the differences have to do with ripple effects that resulted from the way I fictionalized Ronnie and Jeff’s source families. Beverly is nothing like my mother—my mother was much too controlling to ever let me take the reins—and I had no lifelong relationship to my husband or his mother, so Ronnie related to these women much differently than I did with their real life counterparts. I fictionalized the mothers so I could force more conflict on the day of the standoff, since achieving believable character arcs for these women within twelve hours was a challenge. Yet doing so felt imperative; the promise of change needed to equal the depth of the loss. I also knew and idolized my father, and was one of five children. Ronnie’s and my emotional arc, though, in terms of trying to find a sense of self within a marriage, was one in the same.

L.L.: Suicide is one of those faux-pas topics; you just don’t go there. Yet you handle it so sensitively. How might we gain more awareness of this tragic mental health consequence?

Kathryn Craft: Thank you so much Leslie. I had two miscarriages, too, and my mother about died when I needed to talk about them to push through my grief. But you know what? In one such conversation, I found out a good friend of my mother’s had suffered five such losses—five!—and my mother never knew. Why did I know? When I shared, this woman opened up to me. At book signings I’ve had people hold up the line while pouring their hearts out about suicides in their own lives. Holding in all that pain and perceived shame is what causes suicide. We need to talk about those things that have so deeply wounded us. It is not shameful or weak to do so—it is real, and human, and has the potential to bond rather than divide.

Some great resources where you can learn more include To Write Love on Her Arms, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Take 5 to Save Lives. People who have been entertaining thoughts of self-harm should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Readers, if you would like to add your voice to my #choosethisday initiative on Twitter by posting uplifting quotes and thoughts about what makes you come alive, I’d love to re-tweet what comes through with that hashtag. We may feel unequal to the challenge of helping others. Ill equipped. But it is so much better to have brought all of our human imperfection to the task of trying rather than ignoring.

L.L.: What advice do you have for writers interested in exploring their own truth of an event without offending other parties/family members? And to extend that a bit—how has your own family received the book?

Kathryn Craft: My advice would be to wait to write about the event until you’ve restored the kind of balanced perspective that will allow you to give each character in the story a relatable goal. Now you’re not vilifying, you’re exploring relatable conflict. People who write memoirs in order to drag readers through the muck and mire of their existence will not win friends—or, frankly, readers. There is a lot of soul work and healing to accomplish before you can offer up the kind of context a reader seeks from a great story.

As for my family, my sons, now 25 and 27, gracefully and courageously allowed me to base Ronnie’s sons on them, and I did so right down to dialogue I recorded in my journals. Both came to the launch party. My older son introduced me and let me tell you, that was a moment of full-circle healing I will never forget. They’ve both expressed interest in reading The Far End of Happy but I am thrilled to say they live full, vital lives and don’t have a lot of spare time for reading right now! One has started the book and it will be there for the other when he’s ready. Sadly, my parents will never read any of my novels; my dad died shortly before I got my agent and my mother has dementia. As for my siblings, I’ve given them a pass on this one. I chose my husband, they didn’t. No one wants to go through a suicide and I wouldn’t expect them to take it on again, although I do know that one sister is doing so. My husband was an only child and his parents are both gone so I faced no repercussions there.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?

Kathryn Craft: How to step it up for book three. 

L.L.: What are you working on next?

Kathryn Craft: Is it okay to skip this one since I answered the last as I did? Plus this is probably way longer than you’d hoped!

L.L.: Thanks so much for such an illuminating book—and for taking the time to be with us, Kathryn!

Kathryn Craft: Leslie, I sense a soul sister in you—your questions dug deeper than most. Thank you for the opportunity to entertain them.

Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft Bio:

Kathryn Craft is the author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves any event that brings together readers, books, food and drink, and mentors other writers through workshops and writing retreats. A former dance critic, she has a bachelor’s in biology education and a master’s in health and physical education from Miami University in Ohio. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and spends her summers lakeside in northern New York State.

You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter:@kcraftwriter, her Website , and Goodreads    . Special thanks to publicist Suzy Missirlian @Suzy4PR for connecting us. Author and cover images courtesy of K. Craft.

 

Fiction Friday:

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By Leslie Lindsay Fiction Friday:

You know how reading a really gripping book can get your creativity flowing?  Well, it worked wonders for me this past week as I dove (quite literally) into Deb Caletti’s book, HE’S GONE (Bantam, 2013). 

While this book is about remarried woman who wakes on a typical Sunday morning only to find her husband is missing, it has little to do with first love, which my novel is about.  Dani (Caletti’s female character) can’t remember them coming home the night before, she’s stumped.  Over the course of 10 days, she recounts every last moment together, the words they said, the moments they shared trying to recreate the possibility of what happened.  I was particularly taken with Caletti’s well-crafted sentences, the gritty language, and overall gripping tale that our lives–and our marriages aren’t always what they seem.

Interested in how HE’S GONE sparked my own creativity?  Here’s an excerpt written just last evening that will go into Slippery Slope (working title). 

“I can’t sleep.  The sheets are all baggy and sweaty.  Joe lies next to me, the hill of his shoulders lifting up with every inhale, a valley with every exhale.  He says I am his ocean, deep and pure.  Love can move mountains. 

The notebook I bought for these interrupted nights rests on the bedside table, amid the reading glasses, pens, and catalogs.  We write to taste life twice.  God, I love that quote.  Hearing the words pour from my internal dialogue, seeing the letters fall on the crisp paper, the sweet taste of those letters.  They pop-sizzle-pop like cheeries on my tongue, encompassing all of my senses.  Yet, I can’t make myself roll over and reach for it. 

My eyes glance back at Joe sleeping peacefully in the moonlight. It’s amazing how much the human eye can see in a darkened space.  Rods and cones, pupils and irises.  The mind’s eye.  Is he dreaming?  Of what?  His body is splayed like an exclamation mark, a warning.  What, Joe goes on inside of your mind as you are drifting into sleep, when you are stuck in that limbo land of awake-not-yet-asleep state?  Are there microcosms of thought twisting around an impetus of me and our family? 

Are there strobes of light and color gnarling, shaping, molding images of sprightly love?  Innocence and remembering.  Her. Your first love. 

I groan and reach for my notebook.  I’ve got to get these ideas down.  I pick it up; it feels of cool—malleable—those thoughts and ideas bending, my brain molding the thoughts into words I can transcribe. 

Joe mumbles something in his sleep.  It doesn’t sound like anything intelligible.  He huffs and jerks the sheet away from me, rolling his body onto his side, facing away from me; two lovers split, a bifurcation.  I swallow and twist my legs to the edge of the bed, dangling them over the edge.  Inhale, exhale.  The room smells of sticky, sour sleep.  The notebook beckons me.  Open me.  Write onto my pages.  Your secrets are safe here.

I lean forward snapping the notebook into my grasp.  The problem with words, once spoken they can never be retracted; once written they remain forever, like fingerprints on a heart. 

In the master bath, I flip on the light, close the door.  My legs are wobbly and weak, I let my body slide down, broken and confused.  The notebook falls from my hands, a splat on the tile, splayed open to a blank page.  I lean forward, rubbing my face in my hands.  The thoughts need to go away.  They need to get out my head.  I take the pen from the coiled binding of the notebook  and let my hand flow along the pages.  I have no idea what I am thinking, no idea of what to write.  My mind seems to know something I do not. 

1868.  You and me.  In the English countryside.  Stonewalls and moss.  Gray-blue skies.  Flowers and clover.  Violet.  Secret rendezvous.  Violent.  A class difference.  A life-long chase.  A marriage.  A binding.  A contract.  You promised. Steve.  SFK.  ILY.  Make the thoughts go away.  Violent, violet.  Again.  Violent, violet.  Again.  Violent, violet.    

Again.

My eyes assess the words, they mean nothing.  My head pounds, a loud banging, pulsing between my ears.  I am spent, tired.  Bound and broken on the floor. I reach up and grab the doorknob, stretching with my fingertips.  It feels so far away.  I press my body on the door, twist the knob.  The door opens and the weight of my body pushes me forward into the room.  I lay there for ten seconds, two minutes.  Honestly, I don’t know how long my body lays prone. 

I stir to the sound of Joe’s snoring.  He says he doesn’t snore, but he does.  The wind blows through the crack in the window, the curtains dance, moonlight falls on my bare legs.  I stand, ruffle the wrinkles from my nightshirt and shuffle to the medicine cabinet.  A past dental procedure.  Vicodin.  It glows like an amulet, a promise of good fortune.  It’s old, but I don’t care.  Maybe the half-life has expired; it’ll be less potent now.  I twist the child-safety cap and pop a pill into my mouth.  I turn the facet on, tip my head and cup my hands as I slurp the medication into my body.”

[Remember, this is an orginal work of fiction.  Copying or distributing as your own is strictly prohibited.]

For more information on Deb Caletti or HE’S GONE, please see:  Product Details(image retrieved from Amazon.com 6.14.13)

Fiction Friday: Progress Makes You Insane

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By Leslie Lindsay

Fiction Friday:  Work-in-Progress from "Slippery Slope"

I am feeling a bit nutty these days as my novel is nearing a turning point: the end.  My female protagonist may be losing a little bit as well.  Remember, this is original work from a novel-in-progress…please do not take as your own. 

And here we go… some old stuff I dusted off for Slippery Slope: 

“I breathed in the crisp fall air.  The leaves falling gently in golden hues as the sun sparkled in dainty brightness.  I parked the van, got out, and slammed the door with a thump.  Stupid minivan.  When could I get a real car again?  I walked into the waiting room.  The space smelled like paper and vanilla, the Muzak pumped out classical tunes from the sound system.   A white noise machine sat tucked in the corner, camouflaged by a plant.  I slid the glass divider window, revealing a pinched-faced receptionist.

        “Insurance card.”  It’s not a question, but a demand.  Her bony hand reaches forward and snaps the card from my grip.  She turns to make a copy and flips open a Day planner.  “Have a seat.”  She nods towards the blue seats lined up against the wall.  Blue, it figures; the most calming color in the world. 

         Jackie calls my name, standing in front of the barely opened self-locking door, “for privacy,” she’s told me before.  I didn’t buy it then, I still don’t.  More like: to keep the crazies out; people like you. 

         She ushers me into her office.  I plop down on the worn, overstuffed sofa and cross my legs.  

        “What’s going on?  How’ve you been?” 

        One question at a time for my delicate brain, Jackie.  ‘What’s going on?’ is a completely different inquiry than ‘how are you?’       

        And so I begin.

        “Well, Madi and Kenna were growing and learning by the day—the hour—and I am generating decorating jobs left and right.” 

         She nods, taking this all down in her electronic tablet.  “And what grade are the girls in now?” 

        “Well, Kenna is in full-day kindergarten and doing fairly well there, with the exception of a few ‘mean girl’ instances, which I can’t really understand.  It’s kindergarten for cryin’ out loud!”  I pause, re-crossing my legs.  “Turns out there’s a lot to be ‘mean’ about these days—iPods and cell phones are slowly making their presence in the under-ten market, something I am completely against.  There are clothes and shoes and Pottery Barn backpacks,” I rattle off.    

         Jackie nods. 

         I continue.  “And the usual—‘you’re picture isn’t as pretty as mine,’ arguments, along with lunch room and recess etiquette.” 

         Jackie inhales and leans to the other arm rest on her chair, the captain’s seat of therapy.  “And how do you feel about all of this?” 

          “Fine.  Good.  I took her shopping over the summer and loaded her up with school supplies and cute shoes and clothes, proud to send my “baby” to kindergarten.” 

         “So you are proud?”  She tucks her hair behind her ear, a sleek brown bob. 

       “Well, yeah.” 

       “And your other daughter?” 

       I swallow, “Madi is loving her preschool program.  She had grown into quite the precocious three-year old, already “reading,” books by memorization and being extremely in tune to other’s feelings and emotions.  Including mine.”

       “Oh?” she knits her eyebrows, leans in, “What do you mean?” 

       “Well, one day Madi says, ‘Mommy, you seem sad’,” I furrowed my brows and gotten down to her level, ‘What do you mean, Madi Moo?’ I asked.” 

         She touched my hand, ‘You know, momma.  Sad.’ 

        I bit the inside of my cheek, ‘Well, I am not sad.  I am just busy.  There’s a difference.’

         She shook her head, ‘No, you’re sad.’ 

        ‘Punkin, I promise you, I am not sad.’ It went on like this for awhile.  Madi trying to tell me I was sad, me telling her I was just busy with work and a little preoccupied, all while trying to tell her that I wasn’t sad about her, heaven forbid. 

       “So are you sad, Annie?” 

       “No.  I am not sad.  But to a 3-year old, I could see how she might think I was sad.  I’ve been working awfully hard at getting my decorating business up and going.  I am still trying to be the perfect wife, mother, and homemaker, and there are days I am just tired.  Worn out.  Deflated.” 

        Jackie nods her head, “I can appreciate that.”  She scribbles something on her electronic doo-dad. 

       I continue, “Joe is working non-stop.  His company recently merged with a larger, more prestigious company—the stakes are higher, the projects and clients more important.  I feel alone most of the time, often joking that we we’re two ships passing in the night; feeling like a single parent even though we’ve been married almost seven years now.” 

        “Perhaps Madi’s assessment isn’t so far ‘off,’ then?”  A smirk crawls across her face, pleased. 

        “No.  I don’t know—maybe.  But she’s three.” 

        Jackie shifts in her captain’s chair, throws her left leg over her right, brown suede boots.  I can’t help but like them.  Fuck-me boots.  “Sometimes kids can be very preceptive.”

Fiction Friday: Annie’s Pissed

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By Leslie Lindsay Fiction Friday:

Still working on revisions here–so thought I’d share a bit of what I polished up this week.  This is from my novel-in-progress.  Here goes: 

                 “I shifted on her couch, a plump Pottery Barn reject from ten years ago and fingered the fringe pillow, braiding the strands into tiny cornrows.  Jackie crossed her legs, revealing a new pair of shoes (three-inch orange and red color-block heels) and folded her hands on her lap.  How can the woman not have varicose veins, I mused.  I continued with my diatribe. 

               I was pissed and I don’t like feeling pissed.  In fact, the word itself made me cringe.  My nose crinkled and the word came out all nasally.  It’s not how I talk, and certainly not how I think.  ‘Being pissed’ sounds uneducated and uncouth.  But it’s a feeling, nonetheless.  I shrugged.   

          I wondered almost hourly what Steve was doing.  Who he was with.  What he looked like.  It pissed me off.  I wanted to fight these feelings away, tend to my own family, but they clung to me, a suffocating shroud around my head. 

         I was pissed at myself for having gone to the psychic party in the first place.  It felt wrong.  It opened my mind to foreign and intense possibilities I hadn’t wanted to consider before.   I felt unsettled—my faith challenged as I questioned Madam Moselle’s abilities, her predictions. 

       Perhaps there was something to this psychic stuff after all. 

        “So you’re pissed off,” Jackie said. 

        I nodded. 

       “Did you know that depression is really just anger directed inward?” Her voice soothing, yet tinged with arrogance.   

        I rolled my eyes, hefting my leg up on her couch, twisting my body away from her.  Anger, depression, what did it matter? 

        I was pissed at Joe too.  Every night when he came from work, he’d hang his jacket in the mud room, slip off his brown leather Oxfords and replace them with moccasins, creeping into the kitchen with the limpness of a wet noodle. If I was lucky, I would get a dry peck on the cheek as I slid the pot pie into the oven or pressed the buttons on the microwave.   I really needed some validation from him that things were good between us.  The fact that he couldn’t find the time to get away for our engagement trip just added fuel to the fire. 

         There was something deeper though.  It wasn’t just anger.  I was hurt.   I wanted to be wanted, not just Joe’s service person.  I kept the house clean and neat, meals on the table, and kids in line.  I was around when he needed to travel for work and doled out reminders when it was time to take out the trash—the one household task he seemed to take some responsibility for. 

          I was pissed.  And confused.

          Madame Moselle’s reading weighed on me.  I didn’t know what to think or feel. 

        My true love.  Steve. 

          But there was Joe.  “…not the one I see you with.” 

          Images of Steve hovered in my mind’s eyea playful punch to my shoulder, “Hey, you!” curling his lips into a rounded bow.  I’d startle briefly, demurely lifting my face to Steve, slanting my eyes in a flirty stare.  Steve would scoop me into his arms and nuzzle his nose into the crook of my neck, warming my insides.  

            The fantasy a less Joe-like playfulness I craved.  Instead, Joe would stand there waiting for me to make the first move; his moments of spontaneity carefully planned, a reaction to someone else.  In other words, he had no spontaneity.

           I shook my head.  I had to stop thinking like this.  This was my life, my reality.  With Joe.

          “Let’s reframe this, Annie.  Do you really believe you should have ended up with Steve?”

          I pinched my lips.  I repeated the question.  “Should I have ended up with Steve?”

        Repeating the question is a sure-fire way to identify deception.  The respondent is formulating an appropriate response. 

          “Um…I don’t know who I should have ended up with.  I guess it’s Joe or I would be with Steve, right?” 

[Remember, this is an original work of fiction.  It is not intennded to respresent anyone real, living or dead.  Please do not borrow, beg, or steal…without first asking permission.]

The Teacher is Talking: The Whole-Brain Child Continues

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By Leslie Lindsay

Product Details (image retrieved from Amazon.com on 9.4.12) 

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson (Sep 11, 2012)

We have been discussing the book, THE WHOLE-BRAIN CHILD by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson.  The premise:  if you “speak” to both sides of your child’s brain (right=emiotion-driven and left=logic-driven) through 12 strategies, then you may have a better chance at picking your battles, helping your child, or problem-solve.  And who wouldn’t like to get better at those things?  Last week, we focused on strategies 1-6, today we’ll tackle the final 7-12 strategies.  Here goes:

  • Strategy #7:  Remember to Remember–Making Recollection a Part of Your Family’s Daily Life.  For some, remembering things is well…a no brainer.  For others, it’s a little more challenging.  It’s an exercise, if you will–the more you work it, the better your memory.  Give your children practice with remembering things.  Telling and retelling a story works, so does remembering a list of letters or numbers (+/- 5 items).  This all helps create memory for experiences; important for later problem-solving skills and developing friendships/relationships.  Try it at home:  Instead of saying, “How was your day?”  Ask something more active, “What was the best part of your day?”  Or, “Who did you eat lunch with?”

 

  • Strategy #8:  Let the Clouds of Emotion Roll By–Teaching that Feelings Come and Go.  Important, yes that kids learn to identify their feelings, but just as important is that kids learn that feelings are fleeting.  That’s right–they come and go.   On average, an emotion comes and goes in 90-seconds.  Try it at home: Instead of labeling oneself forever, try this, “I’m not dumb, I just feel dumb right now.” 

 

  • Strategy #9:  SIFT–Paying Attention to What’s Going on Inside.  Kids need to be aware of what they are actually feeling inside.  Yep–all of those emotions, desires, ideas whirling around need to be acknowledged.  Enter SIFT:  Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts.  Try it at home:  if your child is feeling out-of-sorts about something, help her identify it by talking about SIFT.  “It must be scary having pictures of that monster in your head.  You know what you can do?  You can change the picture!”  And then talk about how the monster may not be scary after all…maybe even funny?  (see earlier post on Marlow and the Monster

 

  • Strategy #10:  Exercise Mindsight–Getting Back to the Hub.  Sometimes kids can get fixated on one set of problems–their “points of awareness.”  Help them re-set.  This doesn’t come naturally to children, but they can be taught to develop coping skills and strategies to get “back to the hub.”  Try it at home:  When my daughter, Kelly was anxious about kindergarten (see previous post), I tried to ease her anxiety by  talking with her at bedtime.  She was tucked in, comfy and cozy.  The lights were dim.  Her special bedtime music was playing.  I spoke to her in a soothing voice, assuring her that she is a “sunshine girl who can do anything.”  Next, I had her relax every part of her body starting with her head and working all the way down to her toes.  Add something silly like “relax your earlobes,” and you’re sure to get a  giggle. 

 

  • Strategy #11:  Increase the Family Fun Factor–Making a Point to Enjoy Eachother.  Most of us feel as if we just cart kids around or discipline them…but what about just having fun?!  It’s easy to forget how to have fun as a family.  But it’s an important part to learning to connect with others.  Take interest in your kids’ interests, play games, tell jokes…Try it at home:  we recently had a “fun” weekend.  Sure, we still did laundry and grocery shopping, but we also went to a giant trampoline place, took a hike, and went Go-Karting.  Can you tie in some fun, too?
  • Strategy #12: Connection Through Conflict–Teach Kids to Argue with a “We” in Mind. Each new arguement is just a way for us to survive. Belive it or not, there’s almost always a lesson there. But, you’ve had it with mediating those diagreements. Teach your child to see through the other person’s eyes (recognize other points of view) and how to read boyd language. It’s tough to do in the middle of a heated arguement. Try it at home: Have your child watch the other one recreate the tower of Legos or the art project he just smashed. How do you think your sibling feels having to do all of that work again?

This concludes our series in “The Teacher is Talking.”  If you liked what you learned here, consider reading the whole book (sorry, couldn’t resist)!  I merely high-lighted some snippets here, but there is soo much more in the book itself, including some really clever comic-strip-like diagrams.  At just 168 pages, it’s not a big, overwhelming book, either. 

This is a personal book that belongs to our family.  No form of compensation was given for writing about THE WHOLE BRAIN CHILD (Delacorte Press, 2011).

The Teacher is Talking: Imagine How Creativity Works

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By Leslie Lindsay Product Details (image retrieved from Amazon.com on 7.17.12) 

I have this new book and I am pretty much loving every minute I am reading.  At first glance, though I will admit that I wasn’t too keen on it.*  I know, cringe.  Who can’t love a book about creativity?  I am shaking my head right now.  Ooops, that may be a little piece of my creativity falling out…

Here’s the thing: Jonah Lehrer does a fantastic job of taking all of this brain hullabaloo and making it readable.  Okay, sure there are some big words in there like dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior superior temporal gyrus.  But he breaks it all down into terms we can all understand (jeez, where was this book when I was in nursing school?!).  And he makes things seems practical, realistic, and attainable.  All qualities we can appreciate. 

In just the first sitting with this book, I learned more about creativity–and harvesting it–than I have in well, maybe my whole life.  It’s not that the book is a “how-to” by any means, but it does take simple ideas and the process of thinking to a whole new level.  For example, who knew that they color blue actually helps test-takers relax and do a better job than say the color red?  (May sound simple enough–red evokes the dreaded stop sign or pen from your teacher).  But there is actual brain science that backs all of that up. 

There’s a reason you come to epiphanies while you are jogging or hanging out on the elliptical machine.  It’s because your brain is relaxed, able to wander.  When you sleep, your brain is still working and you may get flashes of insight when you dream–if you pay attention.  Even daydreaming is scientifically studied–those who daydream, or can’t let go of a problem–are often more creative.

What the book also explains is that most creative folks only tell you about the end product of their creativity–their art, their music, their writing, their invention, their whatever…but never the frustration.  All creative types are persistent and have come across lots of stumbling blocks.  They may have been frustrated with a particular item (as in the mop–hence the development of the Swiffer), or just looking for a new idea to save time and hassle (Scotch Tape and Post-It notes).  Creative folks have been there.  They have been pissed off and down in the dumps.  In fact, that is covered, too–depression and mental illness, drug use and other “aides” to creativity. 

  

Definitely a book I will keep reading.  Thank you, Jonah Lehrer.  Much appreciated by this creative type. 

Class Dismissed!

*You are probably wondering why I wasn’t too keen on the book in the first place.  It’s simple, really.  It was crammed into bookseller windows next to all of the typical graduation gift books like Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and I thought, “Oh, another graduation book.”  It was probably just the timing of publication, but in retrospect, this really ought to be a book that everyone reads–new grads, included.

The Teacher is Talking:

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By Leslie Lindsay

I have been off-track today.  I am blaming it on this cold I have been sporting since–oh, I don’t know.–the trees bloomed back in March!  I think it started as allergies then morphed to a cold and then cleared up and is now back.  Lucky me.

I should have been working on some articles today for various publications, but I am not.  I stopped at Trader Joe’s and then to Two Bostons Pet Boutique (nothing fancy for this hound, unless you count the Greenies to freshen her breath and the rice/pototo-free food to tame her toots).  And then home where I really thought I was going to get some good “work” done.  Alas, I started a load of laundry, folded another and futzed around too much on Facebook.  You know how it goes.

So do the authors of “The Winner’s Brain,” Drs. Brown and Feske.  In fact, they aim to say that focus is actually “Win Factor #3.”  That is having it [focus!] is what really factors into the equation to get people to become winners.

Product Details (Image rerieved from Amazon 5.15.12)
GET A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK TODAY!!! JUST COMMENT ON HOW YOU LOST FOCUS AND HOW YOU GOT BACK ON TRACK!  FIRST COMMENT OF THE DAY WINS!

The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success by Jeff Brown, Mark Fenske and Liz Neporent (Mar 22, 2011)

The brain is faced with a “zoo” of distractions that compete for our attention on a near constant basis.  In fact, most folks are distracted at least every 3 minutes into a task.  Emails!  Phone calls!  Im’s!  Kids!  Hounds!  They’re everywhere!  But a person who is really driven (okay, I’ll say it…a “winner”) has the ability to focus on tasks and activities in the moment, especially when that moment in full of distractions and stressors.  They are able to deliberately calibrate their level of FOCUS under a wide array of circumstances and can call on the best type of focus for the task at hand.  Humm….who knew we had different types of focus?!

Here are Five Different Steps to Reinvest Your Focus (from the book):

1.  Admit to yourself that you are off-task

2.  Remind yourself of the original task and why it is important

3. If possible, eliminate the factors that derailed your attention; turn off the cell phone, close email, grab a sandwich, finish a conversation.

4.  Choose a starting poin, cue yourself with a word like “go” and get back on-task.  Notice the rich details of what you are doing.  If you are reading something that you are trying to stay focused on, put a checkmark at the bottom of every pays or every so often, jot a word down in the margin.

5.  Pay attention to the small details you may not ordinarily notice to give you a new perspective on the same ol’ task. 

Class Dismissed!!

Apraxia Monday: Getting to “Diagnosed with Apraxia”

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By Leslie Lindsay

This Just In:  I was recently asked by Pediatric Health Associates of Naperville/Plainfield, IL to be a guest blogger on their website/blog.  Here’s a brief run-down of how we got to the point of seeking out an SLP for our daughter’s suspected speech “problem.”  (at the time, we didn’t know it was apraxia).  All thanks to our pediatrician who suggested we get her speech evaluated.  Read the blog yourself here:  http://www.pedhealth.blogspot.com/

We all have a story to tell about when and how our child was ultimately diagnosed with CAS.  Do you remember the day well?  Was it a blur?  Do you wish you could forget it?

It is often these stories that shape our understanding–and often outcome–of our child’s diagnosis.  If you had a chance to recreate that story with exactly all of the details that made the story more “healing”/proactive would you?  Do you believe it unfolded just the way it was *meant* to?

I suppose I am of the camp that believes everything-happens-for-a-reason.  As I look back on my daughter’s early days of having received her CAS diagnosis, I am pretty comfortable with how everything worked out.  We were fortuante enough to have caring, astute medical professionals on-board at an early age who helped guide us in the right direction–that of the SLP.

However, I realize not all families are quite so lucky.  If you are suspecting your child has a speech-language delay/concern, please bring it to the attention of a trusted medical provider.  While it is true that M.D.s and Nurse Practioners cannot diagnose CAS, they can point you in the right direction.  If you are unable to connect with a medical professional, contact your local early intervention program, even a preschool would be able to give you some hints or tips on where to go if you are unsure.

Okay, that’s enough of my PSA for the day!  Please feel free to share your comments and experiences with learning your child’s diagnosis.  Who was it that ultimately got you on the right path to intervention?

Check out Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech (Woodbine House, March 2012) from your local library, Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_19?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=speaking+of+apraxia&sprefix=Speaking+of+Apraxia%2Caps%2C479, Barnes & Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/speaking-of-apraxia-leslie-lindsay/1108043955?ean=9781606130612, or Woodbine House, www.woodbinehouse.com