• Bookish,  mental health,  Writing

    Reading & Mental Health

    This post was meant to be my June wrap-up. I wrote it, edited it, deleted it and finally started over.

    I love posting big stacks of books read just as much as the next bibliophile. But what happens when that stack represents far more than books completed?

    When that stack represents a month marked by struggles?

    You write about it.

    May was mental health awareness month and I felt great. I even wrote about it to increase awareness. But then June happened and how disingenuous would it have been to pretend that I felt good and June was just another month?

    I couldn’t do it.

    I’m a slow burner. Things happen and I go into crisis mode. I hold it together and make sure everyone around me is taken care of first. The crisis is endured and once everyone else is back to “normal”, I implode – long after most think to ask how I’m doing. And that’s my fault, not their fault.

    There are many studies out there on the benefits of reading and the correlation to mental health. I have found those studies to be true with one exception:

    What do you do when you feel so bad that you can’t concentrate enough to read a few pages?

    My answer is audiobooks. They engage a different part of the brain, are a great distraction, and dull the roar of anxiety in your mind. This has been my experience at least.

    So here’s my honest wrap-up for June:

    I struggled with depression and anxiety. I needed my medication adjusted. I saw my therapist more and I read when I could.

    I listened to three audiobooks this month and they made a difference in my days – and sometimes even nights when I couldn’t sleep.

    I still read four books this month. I finished The Recognitions at the very beginning of the month and the other three I finished towards the end.

    I’m feeling a lot better now and all in all, I’d say June was a good reading month.

    Here’s to July and a little extra vitamin D!

  • Lists,  mental health,  Top Ten Tuesday,  Writing

    Top Ten Tuesday: Mental Health Awareness

    May is Mental Health Awareness month – a cause near and dear to my heart. So for Top Ten Tuesday, I have a list of ten books that highlight mental health, the need for it, or one that takes steps forward in removing the stigmas of mental illness and/or asking for professional help.

    1. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – This book highlights grief, loss, the stigmas of suicide and tackles all of it in an unconventional wellness retreat setting. While I definitely do not recommend a wellness retreat with a crazy director, the messages were not lost in the story.
    2. There There by Tommy Orange – One of my favorite books this year, this book highlights addiction, mental health, suicide, and the overwhelming need for better mental healthcare in the Native American community. It’s a must-read.
    3. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – This is a beautifully written young adult book that addresses severe depression, the aftermath of suicide, grieving, and healing. I have read this book twice.
    4. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – The definitive guide on how not to pick a psychiatrist. This is not a book to read while actively dealing with depression. But on the other side, it is one of the more accurate depictions of what it’s really like to struggle with severe depression and loss.
    5. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – This book takes on the stigmas of having a transgender child and highlights the importance of family and community support. This story can make you a better person.
    6. Stitches by Anne Lamott – Anne is one of my favorite writers. I read this book during an enormous season of change in my life. She addresses change, loss, and grief with both humor and candor. It’s a short book and I recommend it often to those in the midst of change.
    7. Normal People by Sally Rooney – I finished this book in a few sittings earlier this month. It tackles abuse, loss, suicide, depression, and asking for help through therapy and medication. I found this story to be very raw, honest, and helpful in addressing the stigmas around asking for help and what can happen when help is not received.
    8. Dry. by Augusten Burroughs – One of my favorite memoirs. Too often I feel that addiction is left out of the mental health discussion. There is an overwhelming need for understanding and education around what addiction is and how to support a loved one dealing with addiction.
    9. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – While this book will raise some eyebrows when reading it in public, it highlights the need for community, loss, grief, and the power of telling your story.
    10. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Despite the public uproar over throwing away your house, this book and method really did change our lives. I have become a big believer in less physical clutter = less mental clutter.
  • Book Reviews,  Writing

    Trust Exercise: a book review

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️.5/5

    met·a·fic·tion
    /ˈmedəˌfikSH(ə)n/
    noun
    noun: metafiction; plural noun: metafictions; noun: meta-fiction; plural noun: meta-fictions
    1. fiction in which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by parodying or departing from novelistic conventions (especially naturalism) and traditional narrative techniques.
    2. “the followers of Borges had retreated into airless metafiction”

    I am a huge fan of metafiction and stream of conscious writing interspersed throughout a novel. Kurt Vonnegut is one of the masters of this writing technique and Susan Choi, the author of this book, is well on her way with Trust Exercise.

    Why start with a definition of metafiction? Because after reading many reviews it was clear that the readers didn’t have the patience to watch it unfold or wanted a conventional novel format.

    But if a reader goes into this with open eyes, I believe your experience will be quite different than when reading the tired, multi-POV format of a plot where each chapter is named for the character speaking at that particular moment.

    The story begins in the 1980’s at a highly competitive school for the arts. This setting drew me in immediately as a child of the 80’s and a current theatre parent of a high school daughter in a very competitive program.

    I saw her and her friends in the characters. I saw bits of her directors in the teachers in the book – but only glimmers as her directors are tough at times but never inappropriate in using their power and authority as teachers.

    That was not the case in this book and the reoccurring theme was the power that adults held over impressionable young teens and the abuse of that power.

    This was also my reasoning for the 4.5 ✂️‘s rating because there was an ick factor reading and watching the students do what the felt they needed to do to get ahead.

    Sarah, David, and their fellow classmates are under the instruction of their charismatic director, Mr. Kingsley. He pushes every boundary, every envelope, and the students arrive at their individual breaking points during the first third of the book.

    It isn’t until the second 1/3 that the curtain is pulled back and the reader learns that what happened isn’t completely true yet not completely false either.

    Without providing spoilers, here is where the reader has to stick with it as the metafictional elements are revealed and secrets begin to come to light. This is also where the stream of consciousness style of writing begins. You may find yourself flipping back a few pages to confirm what you just read but it was worth it for me.

    The final 1/3 shifts once again and the true secrets are revealed – the driving force behind each fictional account.

    While this was a challenging read, I enjoyed it immensely. The plot twists and the technique to execute the shifts were unorthodox and surprising. There were a few times where I found myself wondering where the book was going but I’m glad I stuck with it to the end.

    Who would enjoy this book? Kurt Vonnegut fans for sure. But also Virginia Woolf readers and in current times, readers who enjoy Helen Oyeyemi and her unique stream of consciousness writing style.

    It’s clear to me why the author, Susan Choi, has won multiple awards for her writing as well as being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This will not be my last Susan Choi novel.

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews,  mental health,  parenting,  Writing

    I’m Saying NO!

     

    This is the post no mother ever wants to write. But here I am.

    At the height of the #METOO movement, our daughter had her own encounter with sexual assault. She had just turned 14 and the perpetrator was 14. She was also not his only victim.

    We talk often in our home about telling our own story and her story is not mine to tell. But I do have a mother’s perspective to give on empowering our daughters and encouraging our sons to find their voices and speak out against sexual harassment, assault, and pressure.

    The #METOO and #TIMESUP movements have done a tremendous amount of good but we can still do better.

    The post I was writing to share yesterday changed drastically as I received this series of frantic texts from my now 15-year-old daughter. I shut my laptop and spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone with the school, emailing administrators, and checking in with my daughter. With her permission here is what happened:

    Her: Mom I need you to call the counselors office and have them ask to have me sent to see them.

    Me: You have a counseling pass. Give it to the teacher and leave. (this is part of her 504)

    Her: I can’t. I’ll explain when I get to the office. Please call them now. I’m going to have a flashback.

    Me: I called and left a message. JUST LEAVE.

    Her: I can’t.

    I then called the front office and told them that I didn’t know what was going on, that she has a counselor’s pass, but for some reason, she’s not able to use it. The front office said they would take care of it immediately.

    I sat and waited. She wasn’t answering my texts.

    Finally, the counselor called with my daughter and I learned what was going on.

    Why wasn’t she able to use her pass?

    Because she was scared to ask the teacher.

    Because it was the male teacher causing her distress.

    In a discussion completely unrelated to the class, this teacher was going into detail about the juries he has served on. One of which was a 14-year-old boy sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl.

    This teacher went into graphic detail about the girl’s video interview, the “doll” used in her interview, and the things said.

    My daughter has been in counseling and was able to recognize the situation she was in and was resourceful enough to get herself out of the situation. She has come a long way in a little over a year.

    Since this was just yesterday afternoon, this is obviously still being addressed with the teacher. I have full confidence that the administration will handle this appropriately. I emphasized with them that while my daughter was impacted, this would have upset me as an adult and statistically my daughter was not the only one in that class being impacted by his words.

    We can do better.

    When a grown man feels that a discussion like this is appropriate – in mixed company, to discuss a graphic sexual assault in detail, with no applicability to the class. WE CAN DO BETTER.

    If we are still at the point where educators do not understand the power their words and actions can have over former victims, books like I’m Saying NO! are still desperately needed. Not just for the education of those who love, support, and teach former victims but also for the former victims themselves.

    I was honored to be selected to be a part of the #IMSAYINGNO campaign and it could not have been more timely. And maybe even a little too timely in our own home. Because while time has passed and she has learned ways to manage her anxiety and PTSD, things like this are setbacks.

    I’m Saying NO! does an excellent job of helping former victims find their unique voice. Many, many times it’s far more complicated than just telling someone to say NO. For someone who has already been harmed, healing has to occur to get to that place and this book provides sounds steps and exercises towards saying NO.

    There are also valuable tools for parents and advocates discussed in this book. I have had to learn to advocate for my daughter in a way that makes a mama bear look tame. And the more I have understood about where she was coming from the more effective I have become. What took me a year to learn, is in this book.

    An aside about advocating: you have to be passionate enough to show you mean business but calm enough to keep from being disregarded because you’re emotional – sadly, that’s an actual thing.

    But a few words about that – this book is not a substitute for therapy. The therapists who have helped our family through this past year have been invaluable. There are also parts of this book that could be very upsetting for former victims without the assistance of a therapist. There are plenty of warnings throughout the book that warn of triggers which I appreciated.

    As yesterday reminded me, there is still work to be done and I am grateful for a book that recognized the need and went beyond the initial movements.

    If you are a parent, this book is a great place to start. We need to be talking with our kids much younger than we probably think – I know this was my experience.

    If you are an educator, you are on the front line and the more you understand about what your students are facing, the more compassionate and empowering you will be.

    And finally, if you are a former victim, with support this book can be a great aid in your healing and recovery of your voice.

    Thank you to She Writes Press and BookSparks for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

     

  • Book Reviews,  Writing

    Gingerbread: a book review

     

    A gingerbread addict once told Harriet that eating her gingerbread is like eating revenge. … ‘That heart, ground to ash and shot through with darts of heat, salt, spice, and sulfurous syrup, as if honey was measured out, set ablaze, and trickled through the dough along with the liquefied spoon. You are phenomenal. You’ve ruined my life forever. Thank you’. – Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi hails from the genre of magical realism, one of my favorite genres. If you are unfamiliar, there is just enough real-life mixed with just enough magic or fantasy to make you forget the real world for a bit. And all without being ridiculous.

    Alice Hoffman is the author who introduced me to this brand of storytelling and in my opinion, she is the master.

    These stories follow a rhythm – introduction of a few quirky or odd characters followed by exploring the world they live in, how they don’t quite belong, and then finally finding a way to live their lives, hopefully better than before.

    Meet Gingerbread:

    Harriet is a single mother of a teenaged daughter, Perdita – who is no ordinary teen. She is different in all ways including her living dolls and completely grey hair caused by a severe allergic reaction to her mother’s gingerbread.

    The gingerbread that Harriet makes comes from an old family recipe passed down to her by her mother, Margot, and farther back from her own ancestors. The origin of the gingerbread comes from crops of blighted rye grown in the questionably existent land of Druhástrana where Harriet and her best friend, Gretel Kercheval are from.

    To waste nothing, the great-great-great-grandmother concocted a recipe using many of the traditional ingredients we know to be in modern day gingerbread. The trick though was to use just enough rye. Too little and you were wasteful; too much and consuming it made you extremely ill.

    Perdita has many questions about her family of origin, her mother and especially her mother’s friend Gretel who has been an integral part of Harriet’s life but has never been seen by Perdita.

    In typical teenage fashion, Perdita says she’s going on an overnight school trip and sets off to learn of her mother’s past and Druhástrana.

    The writing is excellent in the first part of the book. And then there is a dramatic shift as Perdita falls down the rabbit hole of her mother’s past. The change falls somewhere in between a stream of consciousness and a calculated fairy tale.

    Let them come, let them come from the farms and try to pinch us again, Rosolio raged as she sewed. … From now on we’re all carrying gingerbread shivs, OK? – Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread

    Gingerbread shivs was my absolute favorite and one phrase I won’t soon forget.

    This change in style may bother some readers but I found the utilitarian writing style fitting for the time and the place. Once Perdita returns to her mother, the writer returns to the style that began the book.

    I found this brilliant. But I can see how some readers would find it distracting.

    In true magical realism form, the characters find a way to bridge their worlds and the ending was just what I had hoped for.

    Oyeyemi is an excellent writer and I know this won’t be the last of her books that I read.

    Who would enjoy this book? Anyone who appreciates unique writing styles and dark fairy tales. If you liked The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, I think you will also enjoy Gingerbread.

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