A Two-Pronged Call for Memoir Suggestions

As you may know, I am in the midst of writing a memoir regarding how my many and/or severe illnesses affected my life. As part of my research, I have been reading them as well to get an idea of the kinds that are selling and have sold.

To date I have read the following:

From my local library, I requested

Out of all the ones I have read, only Dying to Be Me is a memoir written around an illness and how it affected the author’s life.

From my readers, I would like to hear from you on any of the following:

  • Your recommendations on medical/illness memoirs;
  • Your recommendations for the last memoir you read and why you liked it;
  • Your suggestions for things you’d want me to cover in writing my medical memoir.

Thank you!


Book Talk: Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

I use the library as resource to prevent my home from becoming more overrun with books than it already is. In recent weeks, I have come across articles or book reviews on Facebook that lead me to take four books out of the library. One such book is Chasing the Scream, The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

Hari, formerly a journalist at The Independent and winner of several journalism awards, uses his formidable skills to weave an elegant, sensitive story of the drug war starting with Henry Aslinger up through the more recent changes to drug laws in the states of Washington, Colorado, and California.

Hari takes you through the tale that reveals itself like the petals of a rose as it blooms in spring. Hari takes considerable care to treat everyone in this emotional, unfortunate saga with utmost compassion. When you hear how Henry Aslinger used his office to create a hysteria and drug laws that, in the end, create the black market for drugs that still dominates our streets, you hate him. You feel angry and you want to hate him and blame him.

But Hari doesn’t let you do that. He asks the reader to stop and have some compassion, even for the man who started so much unnecessary pain and death over the last century. Even Sergio, the Zeta gang member, who killed his girlfriend and was protected by both the gangs and the police from her justice-seeking mother, is written with compassion and, like this entire book, without judgment.

This book did more than educate me on how the drug laws create the black market; it showed me how much love, compassion, and connection that addicts need. They need support and stability. And yes, sometimes they need drugs to help them through, but what really is the issue with that?

Some people in this world have suffered tremendously in their lives. The people in this book went through ordeals that I cannot even imagine. Even the worst that has happened to me, frequent illness and hospitalizations, seem to be pale in comparison to the abuse and oppression that others have survived and, then, went  on to make something of their lives, despite – or maybe because of – their drug use.

Addicts use drugs, legal and otherwise, to deal with the pain. Why punish them for that? We, as a country, need to stop being afraid of things simply because we can imagine them  (rampant drug use and addiction) and build a system of support that will help addicts remain integrated into society. It does not to jail an addict if the person goes on to have no way to support themselves when they get out of jail.

And really, if alcohol can be regulated and taxed, then why can’t other drugs? Why can’t we regulate and ensure purity and tax the use of drugs? It could work.  We would have to have safe houses where addicts could go to get their drugs from a doctor, have access to counselors, and get information about how to stop using drugs. It’s been shown to work in Vancouver. It could work for us.

Few books make me fall in love with an author’s writing and the author himself. Johann Hari’s book was one of those few. I love the storytelling and Hari’s seemingly limitless and compassion and lack of judgment towards all the people in this tale, but for himself as well.

Rereading Old Favorites

After my aunt fell ill and died shortly thereafter last week, my brain entered the “Don’t You Dare Try To Think or Be Productive” zone called grieving. My NaNo writing gave up the ghost, and I gave up the writing of that story. Instead, I decided to reread an old favorite story of mine, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.

One year, a friend of mine gave her circle of friends the first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was one of those lucky recipients. After reading that book, I went out and bought books 2 and 3 in the series. I couldn’t believe there were 7 books in the series, and I had to start waiting like everyone else before I could find out what was going to happen next.

Every year, I would preorder my book and then start counting the days until the book was released. After I got my book, I would go home and read the whole thing in one shot. Book four has 731 pages, and the other books are even longer, each one in turn. I read quickly, but even a 900 page book at approximately 100 pages an hour will still take you 9 hours to read, maybe 10.

Yes, I really did stay up until the next day reading the book I had stayed in line the night before to read.

Have you ever read the books? You simply cannot put them down. Each page, each line is a necessary party of the story. To pull yourself away and read it later requires an amazing amount of self-control and disciplines, which I seem to lack when it comes to reading fantastically-written stories.

Let me tell you, I am not complaining!

One night last month, I dreamt about one of the scenes in the book. Without giving too much away, let me just say it’s the scene where Draco and Harry are up on their broomsticks after Draco takes Neville’s Remembrall. After I woke up, I figured my brain was telling me that it was time to re-read the stories.

I no longer remember how many times I have read the series, but I am not tired of it yet. Now that I know the story very well, I find that I am noticing little details that I may not have caught before. For example, Harry & Hermione sneak out of the castle under the Invisibility Cloak and hear something in a closet that they do not have time to investigate. Later, you find out who or what was in the closet. I am not sure I caught that in prior readings, and there have been other examples that have come up as well like that.

Catching these little things makes me appreciate the kind of excellent writing, referencing, and story tracking that Rowling must have done in order to make the Harry Potter series the kind of gripping, well-written, and thoroughly thought out story that it is.

Another of my favorites that I read last month was Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. A friend of mine rereads the story every October before Halloween, and I started doing the same thing last year. To me, October is the quintessential fall month, with cider and ghost stories and candy and Halloween and the changing of the colors on the trees and the leaves as they fall on the ground. October is the perfect time for re-reading ghost stories.

For our Halloween wedding anniversary, we visited Sleepy Hollow, NY cemetery. Sleepy Hollow is the town where the story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving takes place. Afterwards, I ordered and received a 1939 printing of a collection of Irving’s stories, which also includes his story Rip Van Winkle. I started to read it, but then had to put it aside for NaNoWriMo.

With Christmas coming up, I will be rereading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the only story by him that I enjoy.

Do you have books that you like to read during the year? If so, what are they and why do you like them?

Retreat Into Reading

Not only am I a polyliberamorist, I am also a readdict. You know you’re a readdict when you plow through 2-3 books and then plow through 2 more within a 5-day range.

This readdict’s post is brought to you by the libers The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen and The Freedom Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson. You know when you’re going through an information-assilimation faze and you can’t read fast enough to accommodate the voracious hunger of your brain? That’s where I am.

I picked up Mark Sundeen’s book in the last month or so at the same time that I bought Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. But it wasn’t until I returned three books to the library that I picked it up. Not only is Sundeen’s writing excellent, the story of Daniel Suelo (aka soil nee Shellebarger) is gripping. Suelo is a fascinating person who, brought up in and living by tenets in his Christian faith, removed himself from the soul-crushing modern world, found a way to stop using money, and to support himself on wits, survivalist skills, and the support of a community of family and friends.

Even though I am no longer Catholic, I realized along the way that a lot of the way I see the world, the values that are important to me, and lessons I learned about what’s important in life came from my faith. To some degree, a change in or lack of faith does not mean that every single thing you ever learned from your past, nor could you do so even if you wanted to. The things I like about myself, about how I believe, the values I hold are things I like, find value in, and believe in their goodness. Why would I want to change that? I do not feel guilt about keeping that which brings meaning to my life and helps me feel as good about myself and my actions as possible.

Reading Daniel’s story, I found that I felt a kinship with this man I do not know who seeks to live his life with faith that God will provide for him. This is not because I share this exact belief, but because I share Suelo’s desire to live as closely to his beliefs as possible. He has put a lot more action into that than I have. I have things I need to work on: Reducing clutter, reducing my dependency on the money system, and living my life the way I want to live. I can’t say I am doing all those things right now.

The more I read Daniel’s story, the more I thought, the faster I read, the more silent I fell inside my head. It becomes almost brain-wrenching to try and change direction from reading vortex into linguistic projections (e.g. blogging). I want a countryside cabin where I can retreat, where I can be alone with only the birds and bugs to be my audience.

From the story on Suelo, I plunged into the Manifesto, a book that has sat on my bookshelves unread for years. The tagline: How to free yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work, and waste seemed like the kind of book that would make a good segue from Sundeen’s book.

I was right.

I’m about ⅓ of the way through Hodgkinson’s book, but a lot of what he says resonates with me and would probably resonate with Suelo as well. The suggestions that are made in Hodgkinson’s book are kind of like Suelo Light. The idea that you can make changes to bring yourself closer to self-sufficiency seems a lot more reasonable and even possibly doable than it would be to give up using money altogether and go live by your wits in caves in Moab. Not many people have beliefs that would drive them to even test out such a system, let alone by able to implement it for over 14 years as they aged well into their middle years.

I spent my 20’s locked into finding my way into the money system because I couldn’t admit that I didn’t want any part of it. I didn’t want to have to put into practice my beliefs about finding work I truly loved because I could only imagine being a starving artist who would never be good enough to make money at her art.

I spent my 30’s trying out a better money making path in computers, only to leave behind 10 years of working with miserable, unhappy coworkers. No matter where I went, the griping and the resentment drove me to madness. I decided to side step my way out via graduate s school. I graduated with writing confidence, but not a strong desire to write technical documents.

Now in my 40’s, I think I’ve made my final attempts at getting my value through the system. I am working on my health and my writing – fiction, nonfiction, and blogging. I seem to be making a little bit of progress in both areas. If anything keeps holding me up, it’s a life-long belief that what I do will never be good enough so why bother trying?  This time around, I have the answer.

Because I want to.

Confessions of a Polyliberamorist

I have a confession to make: I love reading more than one book at a time. Sometimes it feels like I dive into a relationship with a new lover, only to set them aside and dive into a relationship with a new one, going back and forth until both are over.

Currently, I am in the middle of three books: Witches by Erica Jong, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride, and Philomena by Martin Sixsmith. And when I say I am in the middle, I am about half way through each of these books.

Witches is a fun, well-written journey through witches and witchcraft. The pages are beautifully illustrated by Joseph A. Smith. And I mean all  the pages. Even the table of contents and the font are given over to building a story of mystery woven with history. If you want a leisurely stroll through witch history, past and present, this book is a good place to start.

In addition to witch history, I read a lot of self-help and psychology books. I picked up Will I Ever Be Good Enough? after a recommendation by a friend with a mutual interest in family relationships. If you think you are the daughter of a narcissistic mother, this book is helpful. I can’t say that it fits my situation very well, and I found myself reading and skimming quite a bit. The topic seems to be well written by a psychologist with personal experience, and I would recommend it, if you were interested in the topic.

I borrowed Philomena from one of my sisters, and I picked it up again yesterday after cleaning up the printer desk and a shelf above it. I started reading last night, and spent more time this afternoon. Martin Sixsmith is a former journalist who knows how to build suspense. Maybe it’s the story, but, with each sentence, Sixsmith layers one feeling of growing terror on top of another. The cruelty of those who claim to speak for God blows my mind. My heart goes out to children and parents everywhere who are separated from each other by means beyond their control.

All these book-lovers, all these fleeting relationships. I can burn through books faster than a fire burns a line of fluid. One of these days, I might find myself satisfied with one and only one book at a time.

Jong and Winterson

This weekend, I finished Fear of Flying by Erica Jong and began Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. I borrowed Jong’s book, but bought Winterson’s. How could I not with a title like that?

For some reason, I had imagined Jong’s book to be a work from a purely psychological perspective, much like Eric Fromm’s works (The Art of Loving, To Have or To Be). I was surprised that Jong’s Fear of Flying was a fiction novel. I flipped through the book: 336 pages. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to read it.

I have long since been disappointed with many fiction novels. I actively stopped reading contemporary ones, unless I had heard of their value. Even then, it was no guarantee I would like them. Take Oprah’s book club, for example. I picked up Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone after watching Oprah’s book club episode about it. Although I finished reading it, I could not identify in any way with the main character. I was able to understand the feelings, but her actions? No. I found Doris’ actions utterly disbelieving. By the end, I was angry and glad it was over. It’s a sad state of affairs for a book lover and avid reader to put down a book and think: I’m never going to get those hours of my life back. 

I have tried several times to read and enjoy books by David Foster Wallace, notably Infinite Jest and The Pale King. His rambling style exhausted me. I felt like I’d been lead around the backyard on a leash going in circles and circles, often hoping that this turn would bring me out of the rut and into a new direction. But Wallace just kept on going. I put both books down feeling dizzy and unfulfilled.

I read the cover to Jong’s book and thought, Why not?  I had to admit that I was curious to find out what new sex term Ms. Jong had coined in the year of my birth, and so I read. Its appearance at the beginning of the book had me thinking, This is it? I debated stopping a few times during the first half of the book. The lines are dense. Action everywhere. Verbs, adjectives, adverbs. Rich, detailed descriptions. So many of them! It’s a bad sign when I wonder if I want to spend the time reading the book. The main character thinks about sex. A lot. I probably would not have finished it if the story were written by a man about a man’s sexual thoughts for over 300 pages. I would probably have thought him vain and shallow and full of himself. And I did roll my eyes at Isadora. But I kept reading. After a while, I realized I was hooked, even when the thought provoking thoughts entertained by Isadora where thoughts I’d considered in my own 20’s. But those have been gone going on 15 years soon.

Then, half way through, I gasped! Rare are events in books not in the thriller, fantasy, or sci-fi genre that have me gasping. I was in for the long haul. Towards the end, I kind of got the moral that Jong was aiming for. I mean, I understood it but only so far as my understanding could go. But the main character switched just a little too quickly into understanding it all and moving past the rage of being used by another human being, even thought the using was mutually done. The novel was nearing its close. I get that. But it seemed like a cheap move. I guess that goes to show you where I am stuck in my own development. Now, if I only had picked this up 15 years ago, I might have felt differently about Jong’s book. Make no mistake, her writing is an excellent, engaging read.

No sooner had I put down Jong’s book than I picked up Jeanette Winterson’s. I picked up Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? when M and I dropped by the Three Lives & Co. bookstore in the West Village of NYC. I liked the title, and the carefree-looking child in her bathing suit with a beach ball on a beach hooked me. I was hopeful where I should not have been.

Winterson’s book is autobiographical. She was adopted by Pentecostal evangelical parents in a northern England town called Accrington. I am enjoying Winterson’s style, and with writing that covers deep topics in stark contrast to the seemingly all-sexually driven nature of Jong’s. Winterson reveals her true, deep self in many ways. Isadora talks about her body and desires and needs, but not so much the psychological, spiritual aspects of herself as a human being (a fear of independence from men notwithstanding). I am awed how any sixteen year old person could be strong as Winterson is, whereas I have long felt weak, needy, and unable to live without others, so much so that I have been willing to sacrifice my own thoughts, dreams, and desires to do so.

Not Winterson. I could not have lived out of a car and supported myself by work at sixteen. Winterson did. She was determined to go to Oxford and nowhere else but Oxford. I would have been driven crazy with anxiety and fear and depression over being rejected. I would not have been able to stand alone, not like that. Maybe I would have found the way. Maybe I didn’t because I had so much support that I knew it was there when I needed it. Winterson did not.

When Jeanette was discovered to be in a relationship with another teenager, she was outed in church, assaulted and beaten by her pastor, and her mother tried to get her to renounce her sexuality. At the end of one conversation where Jeannette tries to explain to her mother that she is happy being who she is, her mother asks, Why be happy when you can be normal? I almost burst out into tears. I had somehow imagined the question being asked in jest. But it was much, much worse when Jeanette’s mother asked her in all seriousness.

I’m not done reading yet, but I can tell you that Winterson’s book will stay on my shelves for years to come.

Week 6 Artist Date: Lido Beach

My favorite place is to go is the beach. I have not been to a beach on the south shore of Long Island, NY since some time in high school in the late 1980’s. I regularly went to any Jones Beach or, when I went on vacation with my family, nearby beaches in the Hamptons.

One of my cousins regularly goes to Long Beach, so I thought I would drive to Long Beach and see what it was like. I printed travel directions to and from Long Beach on different routes using Google Maps, which point me into the middle of Long Beach instead of the beach area itself.

I saw signs for Point Lookout at Lido Beach so I changed my plans and decided to go there instead. I wondered what I would see and how far I would be able to see the ocean from there.

I passed the Malibu, an oceanside nightclub. I used to listen to a local alternative New Wave station in the 80’s called WLIR (later WDRE) that used to frequently air commercials for the Malibu.

I was so excited! I actually go to see the ‘Malibu at Lido Beach’! I was there! I thought about stopping to take a photo, but was feeling uncertain. I did not know how long I was going to be driving on East Park Avenue, and I decided to keep driving.  When I came to a light, I realized I saw a sign for Point Lookout on the right.

I turned into the parking lot, and drove as close as I could to the beach. I parked next to a truck. Construction vehicles were moving large mounds of sand in the distance to my right.

I walked past the closed bathrooms and turned left to walk onto the beach. Mounds of sand collected against the building in drifts. I walked on the fine sand and, after a crest, walked near the water. I saw two piping plovers walking along the water’s edge, pecking the sand just after the water would go out. Their little legs flickered as they scattered around looking for food. They were also trying to avoid me, and I kept my distance.

Point lookout Views

I saw a promontory of rock, which I assumed was Point Lookout. No signs were around. Because I was by myself and I have poor balance, I only went as far as I felt comfortable, which was only 1/3 of the way from the beginning of the stones.

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Point Lookout Ocean View

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Point Lookout Shore View

I turned around and took pictures so I could get a 360 degree panorama.

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Point Lookout Right View

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More Shore on the Right

This next shot is a larger shot of the shore. Interestingly, the clouds that darken the ocean do not reach the shore. This gives the effect I went on two different days, but all these photos were taken at the same time of day from the same spot.

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Point Lookout Larger Shore View

To the left, a large stretch of land arcs around and farther out into the ocean.

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Point Lookout Left View

A little ways off to the left from the Point Lookup was some wood debris. The foot tracks leading away to the lookout looked cool, so I took a shot.

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Wood Debris

I took a closeup of the branch of wood because it looked creepy and cool with its twisting and turning branches.

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Debris Closeup

As I kept walking, I saw two additional lookouts that I explored. On my way back to my car an hour later, I came across a mess of piping plover tracks. In addition to the first pair I saw, I saw a family of five hovering close to one of the other lookouts.

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Piping Plover Sand Tracks

I decided to start picking up shells as you can see from the featured image. The interesting difference between the north shores of Massachusetts and southern Long Island beaches: Massachusetts has a lot of rocks on their shores, whereas Long Island has finer sand, black oyster shells, and almost no rocks.

I looked for rocks everywhere because one of the exercises in The Artist’s Way this week says to collect five small rocks. I could only find one. I will have to keep searching.

All in all, I experienced an amazing artist date. I see more trips to beaches as artist dates in my future.