At The Dig Site

I knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Lose Weight.  Such a simple sentence.  And it’s everywhere—magazines, TV, grocery stores, billboards, New Year’s Resolutions, the breath passing through many lips.  The sentence is simple, but the act is damn near impossible.  As my mental health team says, “If it was easy, anyone could do it.”

For me, it also means exhuming emotional skeletons, using tweezers and a soft brush to parse a knob of truth from harsh and debilitating bedrock.  I’ve worked this archeological site before.  Assembling all the artifacts never made much difference, just ripped a lot of fingernails and crushed me with failure.

But dig sites are layered and scattered.  Archeologists work a three-dimensional grid, moving out and down.  They know they have to dig deep.  They know they have to range far from the first find.  Their work is meticulous, choreographed, measured.  Patience, attention and delicacy are required.

I’m still not sure I can go through this again.  I don’t know if I can hold myself in compassion as the remnants of former lives resurface.  But I know I’m more equipped to do that now than I was even two years ago.

I believe life is a spiral, bringing us around again and again to the Work that needs to be done.  With each rotation, we come to the task with different tools.  That alone makes the experience different.

I thought I’d read every book on compulsive eating, but wondered if there wasn’t one I missed.  So I put it in my Plan—Check the Library.  There I found Better Is Not So Far Away: Decide to Recover From Bingeing, Starving, or Cutting by Melissa Groman.  Notice the title doesn’t promise recovery.  It only asks that you decide to recover.

The target audience is much younger than me—teens and young adult women—but the truths are so profound, they knock me flat.

In the pit of loneliness, you most likely feel the totally human ache to be understood, to be connected, to be soothed and loved.  But when you are in the pit, you do not believe these longings are normal, and getting them satisfied seems like a very remote possibility.

She [a client] is afraid of not having, not doing, not being, and just as afraid of having, doing and being.

This book helps, and it’s a trigger.  Anything that leads me further in triggers the compulsive eating.  It’s instinct now.

So, I’m uncomfortable, confused, angry and hateful.  I’m also resilient, patient, accepting and fine.

I always wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up.

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Traveling

sorrows-mother

I haven’t posted much lately because it’s been scary inside my head.  There’s a fine line between sharing my practice of bipolar disorder and giving voice to the blackest symptoms.  When self-loathing and unrelenting despair become the landscape of my mind, there’s no scenic overlook.  While I strive to be honest here, I also know the scenery will change as my brain rolls on down the road, and that perspective provides a much better photo op.

While I attended Lutheran Hospital’s out-patient program, I stopped taking medication for Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  We needed to see if it was causing my headaches and contributing to the irritability and rage.  Subsequently, all the BED symptoms poured back in—food mania and uncontrollable bingeing.  I gained 15 pounds and hurt all over.

BED creates a downward (outward?) spiral—more weight causes less activity which gives all that food more permission to stick around.  I was already morbidly obese, but was at peace with my body.  Without the Vyvanse, negativity and self-hatred stuffed my head like a Christmas turkey.  The spiral became a hopeless vortex.

Nothing in my bag of tricks helped.  Death fantasies dogged me, but I knew two things would always stop me from actually taking my life—my cats (who are getting old) and the book I haven’t written.  In a weird perversion of logic, I decided that I’d better get cracking on that book if I wanted it to be a party favor at my funeral.  At least I’d have a project to work on.

So, this past weekend, I stayed with my friend, Lily, in Minneapolis and met with another friend, Jinjer, to talk about her experience of self-publishing.

coming-back-to-myselfAnd a very bipolar-ly thing happened.  Being with these friends, who love me unconditionally, traveling out of the struggle of my everyday life and into a few days of watching Netflix in jammies and spicy tea in handcrafted mugs, jolted the positive neuropathways awake.  The hateful Muzak in my head stopped.  My friends’ tender care helped me remember myself.  All the bits and pieces that BED and depression tore off me, fluttered back like Monarchs to their winter home.  Art happened.

And a book will happen.

While I knew Jinjer self-published at least two books, I had no idea one of her many talents was designing books.  So instead of beginning a steep learning curve, I gawked at a path as smooth and clear as asphalt.  She will take my manuscript (when finished) with the accompanying artwork and midwife it through the process.  I started working on the second draft as soon as I got home (and also started back on Vyvanse).

This book is my legacy, not a parting gift.  It’s proof that I lived and survived bipolar disorder, BED, PTSD and whatever acronyms stick to me next.  Like this blog, it speaks to the speed of landscapes passing through a traveling mind.

I’m still on an Adventure.  And I’m making my own Atlas.

sorrows-mothercoming-back

 

Purging

Haven

In the continuing effort to make my apartment a spiritual and creative Haven, I’m concentrating on my bedroom this summer.  I fixed up and painted an old dresser when I first moved in.  Now that I have my Dad’s nice chest of drawers, that pretty piece of crap got carted to Goodwill.  I also pruned a ton of esoteric reading from my Past Life, so another falling-apart bookcase will soon go as well.  And the old magazine rack/end tables I used as night stands are also on their way out.

Journals Purged

Five Years of Journals

I tossed my spiral notebook journals yesterday.  I had thought I would use some of the pages as art background, but I realized there was too much pain, misery and confusion captured there.  Why would I use something so disheartening in an activity that brings me such joy?

Journaling is a process for me, a way to See the lies my brain tells me and to release the emotional steam in my physical pressure cooker.  I don’t need to keep the details of my day—I won’t remember them.  Electroshock created a tidy black hole where my memory used to be.  Eventually, everything slides over the Event Horizon.  I was given the gift of living in the moment.

So when I read about my past, I can’t connect to the words.  At best, a fuzzy snippet, a dream-like shadow, might dislodge from the Void.  It’s enough to remind me of what I’ve lost.  And, again, why would I do that to myself?

So, into the dumpster they went.

I’m pulling everything off my bedroom walls, cleaning and patching holes.  Soon, I’ll paint, then shampoo the carpet.  I found a sweet cabinet and a set of night stands at Ikea that will boost the feminine, dreamy quality I’m creating.

Crucible posterOf course, my Romance Wall will be reconfigured as will all my Pretend Boyfriends.

I knew I needed a peaceful, calming image across from the bed, and found the perfect piece when my friend, Robert, posted some of his new photographs.  A large print of Blue Astor is forthcoming.

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I’m looking forward to making my bedroom as clean, efficient and lovely as the rest of my apartment.  In the meantime, I have all these books to get rid of.  Below is the list.  If you’re interested in any of them, leave your address in a comment (it won’t go public), and I’ll send the books you want.

Oops! Too Late!  Taken to the Library on 7/21.  But you can still see what you missed.

  1. A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems (no editor listed. Avenel Books, a division of Crown)
  2. Almaas, A.H., Diamond Heart, Book One
  3. Armstrong, Karen, A History of God
  4. Bennett, J.G., Deeper Man
  5. Broch, Janice & Veronica MacLer, Seasonal Dance: How to Celebrate the Pagan Year
  6. Cameron, Julia, The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart
  7. Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity
  8. Cooper, J.C., The Aquarian Dictionary of Festivals
  9. Dacyczyn, Amy, The Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle
  10. Dahlke, Rudiger, Mandalas of the World: A Meditating and Painting Guide
  11. Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
  12. Dickinson, Emily, Final Harvest
  13. Estes, Clarissa Pinkola, Women Who Run With the Wolves
  14. Farrar, Janet and Stewart, A Witches Bible Complete
  15. Ferguson, Diana, The Magickal Year: A Pagan Perspective on the Natural World
  16. Ganim, Barbara, Art and Healing: Using Expressive Art to Heal your Body, Mind, and Spirit
  17. Gearhart, Sally and Susan Rennie, A Feminist Tarot
  18. George, David L., Ed., The Family Book of Best Loved Poems
  19. Knight, Gareth, The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend
  20. Kramer, Gregory, Insight Dialogue
  21. Linden, Eugene, The Parrot’s Lament: And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence and Ingenuity
  22. Moore, Thomas, Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship
  23. Murdock, Maureen, The Heroine’s Journey
  24. Pearsall, Paul, The Heart’s Code
  25. Pearson, Carol, Awakening the Heroes Within
  26. Phelps, Kimberly Lilith, McMillian, Teresa and With, Barbara Lee, Diaries of a Psychic Sorority: Talking with the Angels
  27. Rilke, Rainer Maria, Selected Poems
  28. Rinpoche, Sogyal, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
  29. Robbins, Rossell Hope, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demons
  30. Ruiz, Don Miguel, The Mastery of Love
  31. —The Voice of Knowledge
  32. Silverstein, Shel, The Giving Tree
  33. Stewart, R.J., Celtic Myths, Celtic Legends
  34. Tart, Charles, Waking Up
  35. —Living the Mindful Life
  36. Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love
  37. —Present Moment Wonderful Moment
  38. —Peace is Every Step
  39. Vaughn, Frances, The Inward Arc

Westward Ho! Day 14

Lamar, CO (8:30 AM Mountain) to Roeland Park (Kansas City), KS (6:30 PM Central).  474 miles.
Notables: Jim Butcher’s audiobook Small Favor (laugh-out-loud supernatural fun).

Mourning Dove, Cabin Lake Viewing Blinds, Deschutes National Forest, Near Fort Rock, Oregon

Eastern Colorado got hot yesterday; upper 80s and dry as shed rattlesnake skin.  So, it was pure d-lite to open the windows of my shabby-chic turret room and sleep with the night air washing everything cool and clean.  Mourning doves woke me this morning; a sound I grew up on and always says home to me.  I’m close now.

Jane, my host, made a real breakfast for me and the family staying downstairs; a wedge of watermelon with blackberries and strawberries sprinkled on top, French toast with a warm orange/lemon sauce; bacon; and really good coffee.

Sour-Cream-Chocolate-Bread-from-ChocolateChocolateandmore-34aJane started B&B-ing twelve years ago, and like the other pro-hosts I’ve met on this journey, her hospitality far exceeds expectations.  She carried my heavy bag upstairs for me, even though I tried to stop her.  She came back in a few minutes with a cut-crystal glass of ice water when she saw my little fridge was out of bottled water.  A slice of her chocolate bread waited for me on an antique breakfast-in-bed tray.

Like Doris in Roseburg, Oregon, Jane did all these wonderful extras matter-of-factly.  Just part of the job.  But their businesslike demeanors cover fonts of generosity and genuine kindness.  These are the kind of ladies you want for neighbors, who show up when disaster strikes and get to work doing what needs to be done.

th736MWWNCI met the family staying in the downstairs room briefly when I arrived; a dad with a tween daughter and younger son.  Breakfast was pleasant with kids who weren’t too shy or too bored to talk.  And the dad had lovely manners (Jane and I were both “ma’am”).

He mentioned in passing that he wrote crime novels.  My ears perked up, but I didn’t pry; he didn’t seem inclined to talk about it.  I looked him up, though.  The blurb for his latest novel, Cry Father, claims:cry-father-9781476734354_hr

In the tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown comes a haunting story about men, their fathers, their sons, and the legacy of violence.

Cool!  I’m downloading that book tonight!

(He looks like a total bad-ass in that PR photo, but he was quite shy with a nervous giggle).

That was the fun part of the day.  The rest was… Kansas.  Like Iowa, there’s not much to see; a few cattle grazing, lots of wide spots on the highway that have names, gas stations and rest stops.  But my audiobook and the pull of home made me cheerful.  And a new witticism from my Navigator.

thDNKM0U8QA stretch of I70 is a tollway.  John announced, “Congested traffic ahead.  Cough it up.  That’s medical humour.”  And he gave a very Cleesian snort of disgust.  Just when I thought I’d heard all his funnies.

Tonight I occupy the basement of a young, professional bachelor.  He’s out to dinner at the moment, so I’ve let myself in (per his kind instructions) and set up shop.  Soon, my Ramen noodles will be burbling, and I’ll see about finding Ben’s book.

A good day.

Tomorrow… home.

Westward Ho! Day 8

Port Townsend, WA (8:30 AM) to Roseburg, OR (5:00 PM).  386 miles.
Notables:  I’m really sick of The Time Traveler’s Wife audiobook.  I know it’s a big bestseller, but I like the movie better (Plot vs Really Dopey Romance).
Tunes:  The Best of Jackson Browne.

John and catUp at 4:00 to pack and sit with my journal (I do wish I could be one of those people who oversleep once in a while. I might as well wish I was 23 and French).  Then, it was one last meal at the Fort’s big dining hall (another delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs with salmon and fresh greens, fresh fruit, toast and good coffee), one more round table of laughs with my new art-buddies from all over the country, and I was back on the road.

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John was in top form as we threaded our way through the forests.  We pointedly avoided any more ferries or tollways.  One bollixed crossing was quite enough.  And I love forests even more than the desert, so it was like driving through my personal version of heaven.  Even the rest stops offered a bit of forest to explore between dumping car-garbage and visiting the loo (I’m afraid John’s rubbed off on me a bit).

IMG_0429We paused at this lovely stop just north of the Washington/Oregon border.  Everything was so green.  And it was 73°.  Green and warm and foresty.  Tiny angels whistled in my ear.

And tonight, another mind-blowing bed and breakfast.  Doris and Mike live a little outside of town.  As I followed the proper twisty country road, I spied a huge buffalo chewing its cud on some guy’s front lawn.  Or pasture.  Whatever the green stuff is that swaddles a buffalo.  I was too intent on finding Doris and Mike to think anything other than, “Huh.  Folks do things a little different out here.”

Doris is what my grandma would have called Just Good Folks; hard-working, generous, no-nonsense.  The house is gorgeous, filled with antiques and Doris’ oil paintings (we nattered about art for a while).  She showed me to the laundry room and invited me to eat supper with them, their son, and another AirBNB couple.  This is not standard B&B fare.

IMG_0431Supper was delicious with lively conversation.  I imagine boarding houses must have been like this in the Long Ago; strangers gathered at a table and resting, safe, under the roof of a Good Woman (and her Good Man).  It feels very homey here.

And now the smell of fresh laundry dominates my room.  Clean undies!  I can fall asleep with the window cracked to let in the Very Different scent of the Pacific Northwest; more ozone, more oxygen, more ocean-washed than Flatland air.

IMG_0435The chickens out in their pen are quiet now (um… yes, we ate chicken for supper).  I visited them before they tucked their beaks under for the night, because chickens this fat and beautiful deserved to be visited.  And I knew Cheryl would love them (you’re welcome).

Now it’s time for me to tuck my beak under my wing.  Sweet Dreams and Pleasant Poultry.  And may you feel the road rush under your wheels.

Westward, Ho! Day 1

Marshalltown, IA (7 AM Central) to Interior, SD (5:30 Mountain).  575 miles.
Notable tunes: Don Henley’s Cass County.  Audiobook: Terry Pratchett’s Nation.

It was a dark and gloomy night… er… morning.

Packed UpI could barely believe that THE DAY had come.  No more lists.  No more sleepless nights (There’s a Country song in there some place), just my nosey neighbor hurrying out to snoop as I finished packing the car, her barky wiener dog in tow.  In no time, I’d shaken the Marshalltown dust off my wheels and set out in the lowering gloom.

mink1First rest stop was Sac City, where I got a whiff of Skunk as I gassed up the car.  Auspicious!  Skunk became my Animal Guide in a sweat lodge ceremony eons ago.  Her scent still makes me feel protected and in the flow.  Then, when I walked along the North Racoon River, I spotted a mink at the water’s edge.  My aunt used to raise mink, so I knew it wasn’t just a weasel.  The gifts seemed to be tumbling out of the trees!

North RacoonIt felt wonderful to squish in mud along the water’s edge, to see geese and hear the bird chatter.  I was glad to have my hat, as the wind at 34 degrees still held a bit of winter.

And who knew Sac City was the home of Barn Quilts?  The things one learns On the Road.

Barn QuiltThe next stop was Tea, South Dakota.  I mean, really, how could I not stop for a spot of Tea after being bossed around by John Cleese all day (His best bit so far has been:  “In 500 yards, bear right; beaver left.”) and listening to a fabulous Terry Pratchett audiobook, read by a lovely British baritone (yes, there are actually a few of those I don’t know or claim as Pretend Boyfriends)?Tea, anyone?

A few hours further west, the skies cleared, the snow melted and temperatures warmed into the 50s.  No more adventures, just clear sailing in the bright sunshine and on into the Badlands.  I knew those naughty bits were close by, but didn’t expect to drive through the State park.  What a feast to wind through all that topographical drama!Badlands

The sun sloped from the west as I drove through The Circle View Ranch’s gate.  A family played ring-toss in the yard.  A scrappy herder-dog watched them from the porch of the main house.  Chickens meandered and pecked along the drive.Circle View Ranch

Badland Chickens

My room is lovely with a private bathroom.  I think my cowboy nephew would like it here.

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Time to wash my Ramen bowl and call it a day.

 

All Systems Go

Sunday, before dawn, I’ll be on my way to ArtFest and points West.  Just one final checklist to run through.

“Flight Controllers? Give me a Go/No Go for Launch.  Booster…”

We had our glitch yesterday.  Testing a new GPS device on the trip to Des Moines, I left the unit turned off, but plugged in when I went in to my meeting.  Two hours later—dead car.  Controlled hysteria ensued.  But, just like Mark Watney, I got to work.


2011-honda-cr-v-ex-lThe folks at my meeting found jumper cables, and I cancelled two other appointments to hurry home to my mechanic (since I could only hope it was a dead battery).  Even though they were booked solid, Rich, Rose and Jeff at Alley Auto hooked Corvus up to telemetry and determined the battery sound.  Just unplug anything from the USB when the engine isn’t running.  Good to know.

“FIDO…”

TomTom took almost two weeks to determine the problem with a celebrity voice I tried to download to my GPS unit, but now John Cleese is officially telling me where to go.

“Guidance…”

I love how easy it was to book overnight stays at Bed and Breakfasts through Airbnb.  It’s giving the hotels in California such a run for their money, that there’s a new tax on B&Bs there (the bastards).  All the B&Bs along my flight path confirmed and anticipate my arrival with utmost glee.  Or at least they promise not to greet me with a shotgun.

Guesthouse on the Green, Billings, Montana

“Surgeon…”

The sinus infection is nearly done, just a few sniffles and a mostly-baritone voice.  I’m taking my whole medicine chest with me just in case as well as good trainers for those fifteen minute breaks every two hours to walk off any fomenting blood clots or nasty butt boils.  Too graphic?  Just wait.

water“EECOM…”

I’m packing a cooler with lunch supplies, a crate of chips, enough Ramen noodles for two weeks, a bale of bottled water, and everything I need to make my daily Shakeology smoothie.  So, basically my whole kitchen  (Oh, and the seasonal jelly bean or two).

“GNC…”

The wild rapid cycling seems to have slowed the last few days.  Anxiety and mania have mellowed to gentle anticipation. A lot of that has to do with preparation and gnat’s ass attention to detail.  When the car died yesterday, I told my sister I was so glad I tested the GPS unit before Sunday, and that I was thankful Mom taught us to be anal.  My sis texted back, “Yes, it does come in handy.”

audiobooks-200x200“INCO…”

My friend, Ellen, at the library gave me an extension on the dozen audiobooks I borrowed.  Between those, my iPod, and a few additional CDs, I ought to stay entertained.  Since I’ll be driving seven to nine hours a day, I won’t have much time to stop at wayside junk shops, but if one happens to jump in front of me…

Back to Normal 10:10:15

 “Network…”

Sue, The Cat Whisperer, will be tending my ground crew while I’m away.  The steely-eyed missile men took to her immediately, and seem to know that she’ll be The Keeper of the Treats.  I’m so lucky to have reconnected with this friend from high school who loves felines as much as I do (and is used to a swampy litter box).

Kuralt-typing-in-his-van“CAPCOM…”

My friend, Cat, loaned me a laptop so that I can pretend to be Charles Kuralt.  My plan is to settle into a comfy B&B each night, cook up a bowl of Ramen noodles, and write a blog post of the day’s excitement On The Road.  I feel very journalistic and savvy since it’s a Microsoft laptop instead of a Mac.

My Butt Itches“Payload…

“I figured the other day that I’d made 87 cards in 81 days.  Since a therapist once told me to eliminate productive from my vocabulary, I’ll just say I’m pleased and amazed at that number.  Some of those cards were special orders or sold on my Etsy shop, but most are going with me.  The vendor show at ArtFest only lasts an hour (Hmmm.  We’ll see about that…), but I’m excited to show my wares and present a funky table display.

“FAO…”

A lot of people helped make this Bucket List Trip a reality.  From Cheryl and Tom loaning me a second suitcase and card displays to my deceased mom leaving me her Honda, I have relied on the kindness and generosity of my clan.  Thank you, everyone.  I am forever grateful.

So let’s go through that checklist one last time.

Why was I such a Wuss?

Cleese

“… I was bitten by a rabbit.  Or rather, I was nibbled by a rabbit, but because I was such a weedy, namby-pamby little pansy, I reacted as though I’d lost a limb.  It was the sheer unfairness of it all that so upset me.  One minute, I was saying, “Hello, Mr. Bunny!” and smiling at its sweet little face and funny floppy ears.  The next, the fucker savaged me.  It seemed so gratuitous.  What, I asked myself, had I done to the rabbit to deserve this psychotic response?

The more pertinent question, though, is: why was I such a wuss?  And the obvious answer is that it’s because I was the only child of older, over-protective parents.  I have a memory (No. 3) to support this.  I’m now about three and am in the Red Crow Inn, the hub and beating heart of Brent Knoll.  Somehow I bang my hand, and just before I burst into tears, I hold it up to my father and howl, “Daddy, look!  I’ve hurt my precious thumb!”

This, to my astonishment, gets a big laugh.  Is my thumb not precious, I wonder?  Dad certainly thinks it is.  When the occasion demands, he always says, “Oh, you’ve hurt your precious _______ [fill in applicable body part].”

I hesitate to criticise Dad, because what sanity I have I owe to his loving kindness.  But there’s no doubt that he did pamper me, and such early coddling was one of the reasons I embarked on a wussy lifestyle.”

John Cleese, from his laugh-out-loud and tender memoir, So, Anyway…

Look! A Baby Wolf!

Do certain lines from movies and TV dig like earwigs into your brain and become part of your vocabulary?  (Please tell me I’m not alone in this). Whether it’s John Cleese in Monty Python and The Holy Grail:

 

Or Gina Davis in The Fly

 

Or most anything from Firefly:

 

continental_divide4A truly horrible movie came out in 1981—John Belushi, Blair Brown, Continental Divide.  This was Belushi’s attempt at being a romantic lead.  Yeesh.  When Brown tries to make him tell the truth, he weasels out of it with a great line that stuck in my head.  “Look, a baby wolf!”

Sort of like the dog in Up!:

 

So, that’s my shorthand for Let’s not talk about how crazy I feel.  Let’s look at something shiny instead (Another Firefly reference, thank you very much).

Look! A Baby Wolf!

Rehydrating1Rehydrating2

I learned how to rehydrate old paper.  I found a set of German books so old they didn’t have copyrights.  Best guess is that they’re from the 1830s.  The acidic paper in books this old falls apart with a touch and soaks up anything moist.  So, as background paper for my cards, I can’t really do anything but use them as is—which is gorgeous.  I love the beautiful type and the design element of foreign text.  But I wanted the option of dressing them up if I wanted to.  After a little Googling and found a ridiculously simple rehydrating process.  To my amazement, it worked.  I feel so science-y!

Rehydrating4

Get a container with an air-tight lid.  Set a smaller container of water in the center.  Carefully tuck the ancient paper around the smaller container (that’s the tricky part—curling the paper without it crumbling to bits).  Seal the container and let it sit for a day.

Rehydrating3That’s the whole process.

The book pages came out a little more supple, a little better able to hold color.  They still sucked up the moisture of inks and sprays, but I’m sorta digging the subtle results.

Rehydrating6

Another day of rehydration, yielded bolder colors.

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Awesome Sauce!

Books I Read in 2015

Open Head

The most books I’ve read in a year since electroshock!  It gets easier and easier.  Thank you, Suanne Wilmen, MHS Reading Teacher, for helping me get my brain back!

Ω Ω Ω

•Ahlborn, Ania. Within These Walls.  The one good thing about this book is the ending—a twist worthy of a horror novel.  But getting to that ending is torture and not worth the effort.  I can’t count the times I threw this across the room because the characters were so incredibly dumb.  If there’s one thing I cannot stand, especially in a horror novel, is the stereotypical, obtuse dolt.  Gee, did someone break into my house and rearrange my furniture?  Why is a bloody specter grinning from my bathroom mirror?  Pfft!  Pull on a red shirt already and join the Enterprise, because, buddy, you’re toast.  Oops.  Did I spoil that ending?

•Binchy, Maeve.  Tara Road.  I found this on the “Free Books” table at the library, knew Binchy was Irish, and thought “what the heck.”  Once I got into it, I kept thinking of Ellen over at Notes from the U.K. and our discussions on how we, as American writers, anguish over making our U.K. characters sound authentic.  Binchy’s characters will never sound anything other than Irish—no matter what nationality she says they are—which I found delightful.  This soap opera with an Irish brogue was lots of fun.

Written In Red.indd•Bishop, Anne.  Written in Red.  In this alternate universe, The Others are the predominant intelligent species on Earth.  Basically, shape-shifters, they tolerate humanity—barely.  When a young woman seeks refuge with an Other community, the repercussions ripple across the globe.  The story is well written with a cool premise and interesting characters.  I got bit hard and needed more.

•Bishop, Anne.  Murder of Crows.  The sequel to Written in Red.  Meg and her friends, both Other and human, discover that blood prophets—young girls who see the future when their skin is cut—are the source of two terrifying drugs.  This time out, we get to see how the different regions interact, meet new Others, and watch the “friendship” between Meg and Simon Wolfgard grow.  Arroooo!

•Bishop, Anne.  Vision in Silver.  The third book in Bishop’s “The Others” series.  I’m completely hooked. Love the characters, love the world, love the intrigue.  You’d think if you lived by the leave of a race that could wipe you off the face of the earth, you’d play nice.  But we’re talking about humans, who are the worst at learning from history. Bishop makes me believe we could be that dumb.

•Bishop, Anne.  The Pillars of the World.  Since I loved Bishop’s The Others series, I thought I’d see what else she’d written.  This high-fantasy story involves witches, The Fae, and witch-hunts.  The Fae are a mash-up of pagan and Greco-Roman gods with the requisite arrogance, vanity and very short memories.  Their land is disappearing, and they stand around wringing their hands and pouting.  They are too similar to human beings in this respect to be very interesting.

cashore

•Cashore, Kristin. Fire.  On this side of Cashore’s world (introduced in Graceling—see last year’s list), there be monsters—animals that look like regular critters except for their rainbow colors and appetite for human flesh.  Monsters cast a kind of glamour over non-monsters.  People have learned to guard their minds, but some are better at it than others (who mostly get eaten).  Fire is a human monster, beloved or hated wherever she goes, so she tries to live inconspicuously.  But the country is about to be torn apart by war, and her special talents are needed.  I love Cashore’s storytelling and characters that live burdened lives.  A thousand stars.

•Cashore, Bitterblue.  In this sequel to Graceling, the teen-aged queen of Monsea is overwhelmed by how to help her people, who were ravaged by her psychotic and sadistic father-king.  Again, Cashore weaves a thoroughly believable world of real people with spectacular ability and complexity.  Her characters are smart.  The intrigue air-tight.  Alas, this is the last of Cashore’s books so far.  She’s better be busy scribbling another.

light•Doerr, Anthony. About Grace.  David Winkler’s precognizant dreams start when he is a child living in Anchorage.  He’s an odd man anyway, fascinated by water and the crystalline beauty of snow, but this terrifying ability pushes him to desperate acts.  Doerr’s writing is lush and breath-taking, his characters almost too painful to watch.  I never knew where this story would go, which was a delight, but sometimes cryptic does not equal artistic.  I felt cheated in the end.

•Doerr, Anthony.  All the Light We Cannot See.  I have no words for this book, just that there’s a reason I had to wait a couple of months for it at the library.  Read it.  You won’t be sorry.

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter•Duncan, Rod. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.  In this fascinating, steam-punk, alternate England Luddites and the supreme power of The International Patent Office keep global peace by banning technology.  Elizabeth Barnabas ekes out a living as a private detective disguised as her “twin brother.”  In exile, drawing on her skills as a circus brat and illusionist, she races to find a missing aristocrat and his arcane machine.  Each leg of her journey is more dangerous and convoluted than the last.  A very tasty read.

•Duncan, Rod.  Unseemly Science.  This is the second volume of Duncan’s Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire where technology is strictly regulated.  England is divided (north and south), and a new law is about extradite Elizabeth Barnabas over the border and back to a life of indentured servitude under (literally) a lascivious lord.  As she flees from capture, she finds marginal safety in taking a case as an intelligence finder for an odd and influential charity worker.  Once again, Duncan leads the reader on a wild ride.  This alternate history is delightful and weird.  I’m looking forward to volume three.

•French, Tana. The Likeness.  I love this author.  She writes tight, detective/murder mysteries set in Ireland.  This time out, her detective, Cassie Maddox, goes undercover to find the killer of a woman who could have been her twin.  French gets us into the head of someone slipping into another’s life and liking it, plus the double tension of all the ways she could get her doppelgänger wrong.  Brilliant.

Faithful Place•French, Tana.  Faithful Place.  Leafing through this book, I worried a little that my favorite detective, Cassie Maddox, had been replaced by the hot-shot Undercover detective introduced in The Likeness.  Frank Mackey is a smart-ass, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to tag along with him through a whole book.  Boy-howdy, was I wrong!  Mackey spent twenty-two years building a life away from his dysfunctional family of origin (we get to see why he’s such a  smart-ass), but a discovery on his old street sucks him back in to relive a pivotal and painful event in his past.  French’s characters are so real, they fly off the page.  Another winner.

•Guterson, David.  Snow Falling on Cedars.  The story begins with a murder trial of a Japanese-American in a small island community off the coast of Washington state in the early 1950s.  Other stories join and interlace this one—the internment of all the Japanese on the island in Manzanar after Pearl Harbor, the young love of the town’s white newspaper man’s son and a Japanese strawberry farmer’s daughter, the destruction of war on a soul and a community.  The book bogs down in detail sometimes, but the beauty and humanity are worth it.

while_they_slept-215x327•Harris, Charlaine.  Dead Until Dark.  After gorging on all seven seasons of HBO’s True Blood, I thought the books might offer more tasty tidbits.  Nope.  Plodding, vapid, with plot holes bigger than a stake through the chest, this first book in the series begged for the True Death.  I won’t be digging up any more of them.

•Harrison, Kathryn. While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family.  This book is mesmerizing.  It tells the true story of eighteen-year-old Billy Gilley, who murdered his parents and little sister in 1984, but not his sixteen-year-old sister Jody.  Harrison, herself an incest survivor, traces the patterns of family violence and abuse in the Gilley family through interviews with both Billy and Jody as well as an enormous amount of research.  Harrison is fearless in opening to the resonance between her own story and the Gilleys’.  For all three of them, violent trauma divided their lives into Before and After.  How does a person reassemble oneself after that?

hounded•Herne, Kevin.  Hounded (Book One in The Iron Druid Chronicles).  I have good friends who read good fantasy and share that tasty knowledge with me.  Thank the gods.  Now I have a whole series to enjoy about a 2100-year old Druid living in southeastern Arizona who runs a New-Age bookstore, mind-links with his Irish wolfhound, and gets legal advice from his werewolf and vampire attorneys.  Here, all the religions, all the myths, all the legends are real.  Most of them either shop his store or try to kill him.  So very tasty.

•Herne, Kevin.  Hexed.  More misadventures of Atticus O’Sullivan, the hunky Druid with the magical sword.  This time out, he deals with Bacchants (minions of the party god, Bacchus), witches—both good and evil, and a variety of demons and fallen angels.  Because he’s now a god-slayer, he’s attracting unwelcome attention from all the pantheons.  Favorite line: Demons smell like ass.

Invention•Herne, Kevin.  Hammered.  Atticus the Druid promised his attorneys (an Icelandic vampire and the alpha of a werewolf pack) that he would get them to Asgard so they could kill Thor (who is an absolute “fuckpuddle” and takes bullying to divine heights).  Along the way, the Fellowship acquires a Slavic Thunder God, a Finnish shaman, and one of China’s Eight Immortals who all want the Asgardian blowhard dead.  Mayhem ensues.  Favorite line: In many ways, I’m disappointed that “Star Trek” never became a religion.

•Kidd, Sue Monk. The Invention of Wings.  I always get a little nervous when someone from one ethnic group creates a protagonist from another ethnic group, then places the story during a dynamic point in history.  But, Sue Monk Kidd is not an author I worry about.  She tells this story of pre-Civil War Charleston from two girls’ point of view—one is a slave, the other her master’s awkward daughter.  The story is full of pain and horror, and beauty and grace.  It’s a treasure and a wonder.

220px-Mrmercedes•King, Stephen.  Mr. Mercedes.  Reading anything by Steve is like coming home for me, but this one offered nothing new.  I was engaged throughout—loved the protagonist, a retired homicide detective who wasn’t handling retirement well, and the set-up of him being contacted by “the one that got away.”  But the bad guy felt phoned in.  If you want good Steve, go read 11/22/63 instead.

•King, Stephen.  Revival.  Ditto.  Okay, buddy, you’re overdue to hit one out of the park.

•King, Stephen.  Finders Keepers.  I think I’ve caught up with my favorite author now.  I love that he brings back the team from Mr. Mercedes—the retired cop, his young neighbor kid, and the young woman with severe anxiety issues they helped rescue.  This time the trio tries to help a teen who finds a buried trunk from a home robbery thirty years in the past.  Steve knows how to build character along with the suspense.  And the bad guy in Mr. Mercedes who felt phoned in is getting ready to make me eat those words.

wally•Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed.  Lots of books are labeled “tapestries,” but that’s exactly what this non-fictional fiction presents.  The fictional main characters are staff at Columbine high school at the time of the student killing spree; the protagonist’s grandmother campaigns for reform in women’s correctional facilities; PTSD, incest, abandonment, mental illness, drug addiction, mythology—the colors and texture of this tapestry weave in a disturbing, enthralling matrix.  Wally Lamb is a wonder.

•Lamb, Wally.  Wishin’ and Hopin’—A Christmas Story.  Not Lamb’s usual psychological taste treat.  More a nostalgic bon-bon.  And Wally thinks he’s funnier that he really is, but the writing is still fine.  He should stick to trauma and dysfunction, though.  That’s hilarious!

9418326•McNeal, Tom. To Be Sung Underwater.  Judith, a middle-aged film editor in California, finds her perfect life unraveling as memories of her first love in Nebraska push her to hire a private detective. Fully-formed characters, a deep sense of place, and well crafted.  If you’ve ever had to leave a love behind, this story will touch a deep chord.

•Pilcher, Rosamunde. The Shell Seekers.  A sprawling novel written in the ’80s about an elderly English woman and her grown children.  The story jumps from present day, to life during WW2, to other events in the family’s history.  I loved the Englishness of it, but found most of the characters tiresome.  The adult children are petty, even the daughter that Penelope (the protagonist) loves is caught up in the career madness of the ’80s.  But, Penelope is lovely, and her father, a famous artist, is fun, and all the English garden/cottage/sea-shore ambience is delicious.  I almost gave it back to the library, but didn’t.  That’s a pretty high recommendation coming from me.

200px-Olive-kitteridge_l•Strout, Elizabeth.  Olive Kitteridge.  Thirteen vignettes that weave together and around the title character in a small New England coastal town.  The characters are complicated, their lives messy and real.  I saw the HBO mini-series first with Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (both Oscar winners and stunning in this show).  I thought there might be more deliciousness in the book, and I was right.  Strout won a Pulitzer for it.

•Tyler, Anne. The Amateur Marriage.  I’ve always enjoyed Tyler’s weird characters, but this couple made my ass ache.  Michael and Pauline are the epitome of Socrates’  Unexamined Life—married during the rush of post-WW2, they never learn compassion or tolerance of each other, never question their own egotistical take on the world, never grow up.  They suffer, their kids suffer—it’s way too much like real life.  I have plenty of that already.

The Books I Couldn’t Finish

•Karr, Mary.  The Art of Memoir.  After reading excerpts on a friend’s blog, I got all excited.  I’m writing a memoir, and Karr teaches memoir writing—I was bound to find useful treasure.  Not so much.  And what is there, Karr buries in weird asides, like a whole gushing chapter about Nabokov who broke every “rule” in memoir writing, or endless details about her own process.  Ugh.

•Hoffman, Alice. The Dovekeepers.  This is one of those books heralded as “a major contribution to twenty-first-century literature.” The flap says it took Hoffman five years to research and write. According to ancient history, in 70 C.E., 900 Jews held out for months against Roman armies on a mountain in the Judea desert.  Two women and five children survived. Sixty pages in, I didn’t care. So, shoot me.

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