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!

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•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.

Moving On

After pulling out my Tai Chi DVD and working through the postures for several days, I’ve decided to move on.  Problem is, I don’t remember the instruction that went with the movements.  Thanks to ECT, that part of my memory is gone.  What I do remember about my Tai Chi class was that there was a lot to remember when doing the postures—stance, flow, follow-through, breathing, visualization.  And that’s just the stuff I remember about the stuff I’ve forgotten.

The demonstrator on the DVD (the director of the school I attended) moves through the postures quickly and turns her back to the camera for a long stretch.  So, not only can I not remember what to do, I can’t even see what to do.

I gave it a shot.  I think I’ll do Zumba instead.

Renewed Bad-Assery

So far, I’ve worked through Chapter 4 of Dr. Phil’s book, The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, and continue to be astounded by the practical, concrete application of what I already know to be true.  I know what my bad eating and bingeing habits are.  I’ve written them down with every weight loss book I’ve ever read.  I also know when these behaviors happen—the activities, situations or people that trigger them.  I’ve carefully examined what my payoff is for continuing to eat compulsively.

All that information ever concluded for me was that compulsive eating was an integral part of my bipolar disorder, and that untangling those two would be nearly impossible.

But, Dr. Phil gave me a couple more things to consider and, maybe, a way to start slipping the knots of my compulsion.  He opined the only way to get rid of a bad eating habit was to replace it with an activity incompatible with eating.  So, I made a list of things I can do besides eat during the times when I’m most prone to bingeing.  It’s a fun list—full of physical activity, art, writing and things that need to get done anyway.

Then, I listed the ways I can adjust my eating style.  For example, I eat too fast, so I plan to stop and take a breath before starting a meal, then set down my fork between bites.  I know all about how the body can’t register fullness until 20 minutes after the fact, but my fullness button has always been much more broken than that.  I can eat for hours and never feel “full.”  And even though I’ve read about these techniques before, I’ve never tried them, because I was sure they wouldn’t work.  I’m willing to do whatever it takes now.

The last piece (so far) was to make a plan.  Oh, goody!  I’m a planning pro!  My journals are full of plans, most of which were too grandiose, too unrealistic, too stringent, too desperate to ever succeed.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to understand this about myself.  I’ve learned to adjust my goals to something more manageable and realistic.  I never could have accomplished this without my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training (Thank you, Xena and Linda Hamilton!).

My plan includes some radical changes and some simple ones.  The big change is eliminating TV.  I don’t know if this will be permanent, but for now I can’t watch TV without eating, so out it goes.  I also eat when I read (another way to numb my emotional turmoil).  I’m going to try some shifts with reading first, since I want to continue to work with my ECT-induced reading disability.  First, I’ll make sure to finish a meal and do some other activity before opening a book.  If I read while I eat or right after I eat, I just continue shoveling food in my mouth.  So, maybe a break will make a difference.  If not, I’ll try reading only where there’s no access to food, like at the library.  That seems drastic, but again, I’m ready to do what it takes.

Without TV I have a lot of open time to fill, especially in the evening.  My plan is to go back to the Y after supper to work on the stationary bike, or take a walk when the weather is fair.  I used to practice Tai Chi, so I will pull out the DVD (proper use of the TV) and start that practice again.  And most importantly, I plan to make meditation part of my nightly practice.  Like drawing, I’ve been wanting to get back to regular meditation for years.  Now is the time.

I know this is a huge life change.  The few days I’ve been without TV have jangled my nerves.  I can feel the habitual behavior straining to reestablish itself and throwing up flares of panic.  I also know that I have to plant these seeds while I’m stable and give them every opportunity to take root.  I need a practical plan in place and working before the next episode comes or I’ll chuck the whole thing and fall back into compulsive behavior.  I will anyway, I know that, but hopefully these new tools will give me a way to steer the compulsion off its normal target.  All I’m looking for is a tiny adjustment, a way to alter the compulsion’s trajectory slightly.

I may not be able to follow through on all these plans.  It may not be realistic to do them all at once.  But, I’ll never know unless I try.

Remembering in Dark Water

One thing I’ve learned about my particular flavor of bipolar disorder is to never take myself seriously—especially during an episode.  The musings, scrambling for Meaning, revelations, decisions and planning that go on while I’m the throes of my illness are, at best, untrustworthy, and, at worst, dangerous.  Like the other, darker thoughts that crowd in, these milder delusions are just flotsam—the foam churned up by my brain’s tidal changes.

So, I’m a little reluctant to pose anything my brain has spit out over the past few days.  These ideas always seem rational.  They feel reasonable, even helpful, but I know my judgment is faulty.  I won’t be able to see how much until the episode passes.

With that very large caveat, here’s the thought taking up space in my head.

I need to keep journaling.

During this episode, I’ve tried to do a little research for my next writing project.  Mostly, I’ve been reading my journals to get a sense of my illness before it was diagnosed.  Aside from the shock of seeing how ill I was, I was struck by my retroactive memory loss.  The months or years when I didn’t journal are gaps in my memory.  Sometimes I can conjure a vague image or touch a ghost of an emotion, but mostly the gaps are flat blanks.  That, I’m used to.  I’ve requested my medical and therapy records to try to piece together those times.  I’ll dig out photo albums and talk to people who knew me then.  I’ll be able to place something in those white spaces.

But even more disturbing to me is that I can’t remember the things I did journal about as recently as two years ago.  Some of the images are a little clearer, some of the emotion easier to touch, but the details of my life continue to slide into oblivion.  Once my days and nights leave the Now, they march like little lemmings off the cliff of Recall.

It’s hard for me right now to keep from making up stories about that, to refrain from following my Dark Brain’s search for the reason why, to not obsess about the possibilities thrown into depression’s sea-foam—electroconvulsive therapy, drugs, genetics . . .  

In truth, it doesn’t matter why my memory is so damaged.  What matters is how I deal with it now.  And aside from keeping my brain as healthy as possible, it seems keeping a record might be helpful.  If I ever thought journaling was self-indulgent, I don’t anymore.  It may be the only way to hang onto my days once they’ve passed.

While this current episode washes through, I’ll try to hold this idea lightly, try not to be frightened by what I’ve found, try to just breathe and wait.  If it still seems important on the other side, then. . . well . . . we’ll see.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

Last night I attended my first Sweet Adelines rehearsal.  I was nervous going in.  It had been a crappy day on the Bipolar Scale—the depression and distorted thinking causing all sorts of mental funk and warped perceptions.  I worried about being “good enough,” about exposing myself in a new social setting, even about finding my way to the small auditorium in the dark and freezing rain.  But, I kept breathing and running my mantra through my mind.  It’s just the illness.  It’s just the illness.  It’s just the illness.  My desire to sing helped me push through the bipolar muck.

I was completely unprepared for the warm welcome I received.  The director sat with me for some time, explaining barbershop music in comparison to other choral scores, asking about my range and experience, and outlining the process.  Guests come to rehearsals for three or four weeks, then must audition with a quartet of the members to join the group.  For the audition, another  member will sing my part (Lead) with me, and we sing a number that we’ve all rehearsed together the previous weeks.

When she introduced me to the whole group, they seemed downright giddy when I said I was looking for a place to sing. Their open-armed acceptance stunned me.  And then, the director plunked me in the middle of the front row and started.

Oh, my.  That close, barbershop harmony felt delicious standing in the middle of it, and even more tasty creating it.  I was surprised as how fast I picked up the songs, even more surprised that I could still read music and make my voice do what the music said.  I hadn’t tested those skills since undergoing ECT, so wondered if they would be a casualty.  They weren’t.

The women around me were encouraging and fun.  They worked hard, preparing for a competition next month.  Sweet Adelines is a serious business, like Show Choir for adults (Glee for Grannies), with choreography and constant reminders to “bring the face.”  I was exempt from all that emoting, but I could feel myself getting into it.  A little corny, but hey, that’s show biz.

The downside is the cost.  There are monthly dues, costumes to buy, and travel expenses.  I told the director the dues alone would be a severe stretch for me.  She told me not to worry (which made me wonder if there might be financial assistance available), and also said I could join without being required to perform.  That was a shock and a relief.

I left tired (standing for two hours straight), thrilled, and cautious.  Since my experience at the Animal Rescue League, I understand myself a little better.  I can’t trust my first impulses when it comes to reentering the wider world.  I reach for what I used to be, which is often beyond my bipolar limits.  It will take time and more exposure to see if I can navigate the pressure this group will create—the anxiety, social phobia, and agitation.  A weekly commitment feels like a lot when I have so much difficulty with consistency.  I’ll just hold all this lightly and observe.

In the meantime, I get to SING!

Here are my friends Carol Singer and Rochelle Bayers, singing with me on my last day as a Ministerial Guide at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community.

How Can I Keep From Singing

The Best Version of Me

Maybe I’m manic.

That’s always the first thing that comes to mind when this much joy bubbles up—which reminds me to hold the glee as lightly as the depression, without grasping or identifying with either.  So, with caution in the back of my mind, I can enjoy this delight.

The source, of course, is the story.  I’ve been working on a rewrite of my novel, Callinda, for a year now, and as I get closer to the climax, it has picked me up and carried me.  Every day, I’m surprised by what the characters do, the turns in plot, the places they are required to go.  Even though I have the whole story outlined with detailed notes, they break through those fences and find new ways to tell their tale.  I’m awestruck.

When I am writing, I am the best version of me.  The Creative Energy moves through me like water, raising me up and floating me out to where the ideas drift across my skin like lotus blossoms.  I can feel my mind open like a bud in the way it unfurls and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s toward the sun.  There’s a peace that settles in and a knowing—I am doing what I was made to do.

Even during the worst bipolar episode, part of me can still write.  Callinda taught me that when I wrote the first draft during the darkest of my dark days.  I was sick with relief that the ECT, the drugs, and the trauma didn’t take that from me, too.  I was changed in fundamental ways, but I was still ME.  I was still a writer.

And, wonder of wonders, I became a better writer.  No more writer’s block, no more fear of failure or of not being a good enough story-teller.  All those obstacles dropped away after I survived my suicide attempt.  I’m alive, so I write.  It became as simple as that.

There are still days when I futz about my contribution to society, my purpose, my reason for being.  Those are the days when the depression comes and yanks my thoughts off true.  I know why I’m here.  I know what my work is.  I’m doing it.

And it gives me joy.

Through the Ice Darkly

Tomorrow I leave for an excursion into the arctic north.  I’m spending the next ten days in Minneapolis, first to sit with a friend as she undergoes a simple, but scary surgery.  Then, to visit other friends—some I’ve not seen since my exodus to Iowa five years ago after I had ECT.

It’s a weird juxtaposition of memory holes and my different lives laid on top of each other like layers of ice on a frozen lake.  Some are Jasper-green and opaque with soft spots and groaning cracks, others sludge-gray with craters.  Others still carry bits of fish scale, algae, and ash from shoreline campfires of summer.  They stand rock solid even in the spring thaw.

Seeing these beloved friends again, touching them, will be like taking nourishment and starving.  Love and loss.  A life remembered through “the glass darkly.”  I hope to maintain my curiosity as broken memories crack the surface of consciousness, as my friends remind me of what we were together and what I was then.  I hope to hold them and myself with compassion, respecting our feelings and our words, watching the rise and fall of emotions without grasping, allowing myself to simply love them in the moment of being together.  I hope to remember my life now, who I’ve become, traveling like Frankenstein’s monster on a frozen floe with growing awareness and a spark of dignity.

It will be an interesting time away.

I will greet you all again on or around January 16.

Books I Read in 2011

It’s a short list, but I’m thrilled that I’ve tackled some “adult” novels and non-fiction.  I’m also finding that Juveniles rarely hold my attention, even though they’re easier for my ECT-fried brain to digest.  I just end up wanting to slap those pouty, whiny teenagers silly.  Oh, well.

I didn’t include all the books I started and stopped.  Lots of those.

Hoping to get even more books read in 2012!

  1. Greene, Bob. The Life You Want.  Oprah’s body guru on fitness, weight loss and “happiness.”  Some good stuff.  Nothing you haven’t heard before.
  2. King, Stephen. Full Dark, No Stars.  Four novellas.  Excellent King.
  3. Larsson, Stieg.  The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Wow.  The movie of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was my introduction to Larsson, and I had to try to read the books.  To my delight, this book slipped through my reading disability like water.  Love the protagonist.  Love the setting.  Love the bad guys.  Love it all.  Must have more!
  4. Martin, George R.R. Wild Cards, Book One.  Shared universe anthology about folks in the 1950-1960’s with genetic mutations—the making of superheroes and supervillans.  Interesting.
  5. Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight.  Okay, okay, I succumbed.  In my quest to read juvenile books, I had to see what all the fuss was about.  I must say I liked the book’s clumsy, sweet Bella much better than the wooden, petulant actroid that played her in the movies.  But, there was w-a-y too many longing looks and brushing of the lips with cold fingers.  Even for me, the Heaving Bosom Queen.
  6. Oates, Joyce Carol.  We Were the Mulvaneys.  Set in the 1970s, this is an amazing study of the disintegration of a strong family after the daughter’s assault.
  7. Ouspensky, P.D. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.  These are transcripts of five lectures that outline the Gurdjieffian method of raising consciousness and spiritual development.  If you dig spiritual evolution, an interesting read.
  8. Pullman, Philip.  The Golden Compass.  The first book on my list of “Juveniles”.  I loved the world Pullman created—so much like Earth, but with interesting differences.  There are two more books in the series.  I’ll probably read the next one.
  9. Rubin, Gretchen.  The Happiness Project.  So-so memoir by a whiny New Yorker trying to cultivate gratitude.  She does offer some good ideas, though.
  10. Shpano, Noam. The Good Psychologist. Interesting protagonist, interesting psychology.
  11. Smith, Dean Wesley and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  Enterprise: By the Book.  One of the early novels based on the Star Trek: Enterprise series.  A good plot.  Interesting for this Trekker to see how the characters are handled when no one knew them very well yet.

Return of the Bad-Ass

This morning I got up on the good side of the bed.  And I didn’t even know I had one.

Life in general is taking a turn.  Our family is slowly finding a new rhythm without Dad.  My incision hurts less all the time and water aerobics is morphing back into something enjoyable instead of torture.  I have a plan for combating the respiratory infections that have plagued me the last couple of years.  My bipolar disorder is quiet for the time being.  And my new doc planted some motivational seeds to take up the weight loss banner.  Again.

It’s the return of the Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Thank the stars!  It’s been a couple of months since I felt this strong and clear with some sense of direction and the energy to follow through.  I quit whining about not having the perfect coffee shop to do my word smithing and planted myself at Muddy Waters.  This is where I first started writing again after my bipolar collapse.  The folks there know me, welcome me and treat me well.

I checked out two juvenile books at the library, on the recommendation of my friend, Joa, the Children’s Librarian, and put my name on the waiting list for Stephen King’s new book.  My ECT-fried brain is a lot like my stiff arm after surgery.  The muscles and skin ache and resist stretching, but they have to be worked in order to function.  I haven’t read anything in awhile, and I need to.  It’s part of my Training.

I pulled out my calorie counter, Clean Eating magazines, food journal and started paying attention to my intake again. Hearing Dr. Brown say “I know it’s hard, but you have to do it anyway” felt good.  I needed to hear that the obstacles in my way don’t really matter—the obsessive compulsive behavior, the fears, the wanting.  They are serious, and they are real, but I have to find a way to set them aside.  At this moment, I’m determined to lose 20 pounds (Yikes!  Did I say that out loud?).  I don’t know how long that will take, but there it is—my starting goal.  In black and white.

Of course, my mood will shift.  The depression will waft back in and blow my resolve.  But, I’m going to try to keep focus during the next episode.  And if I can’t manage that, I’ll try to get back to Bad-Ass Training sooner rather than later.  But, today is what I have, and today I’m in Training.  Today, the Bitch is Back.

Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, Revised—Part 1

Never get Too Tired, Too Hungry or Too Rigid.  That’s one of my new mottos (Another is Laugh ’til You Lose Urine, but that’s a different post).  So in my quest to avoid rigor mortis, I’ve incorporated a few of Gretchen Rubin’s thoughts and ideas into my personal Bipolar Bad-Ass Training Regimen.

It’s been six months since I first set up some guidelines for making the best of my time between bipolar episodes.  Those checklists and goals have served me really well, but there’s always room for improvement.  Plus, our needs and priorities change, and I don’t want to be stuck hanging on to an old ideal when it no longer fits.  That way lies madness and a surplus of guilt and shame.  Pass.

Clean Eating is still a big priority for me, and continues to be elusive.  I feel like I’ve come a long way in fostering my Will, but bipolar episodes and my recent illness threw me right back into compulsive behavior, which starts and ends with non-stop eating of the worst possible crap.  There’s no easy answer to this one, I’m afraid, just awareness and diligence and gentleness.

My thoughts and plans for Strength and Stamina still hold true.  If anything, I’m more determined than ever to exercise every day and add more activity to my daily life.  I also have a physical tomorrow, so I made a list of things to discuss with my doc—how to deal with this persistent recurring bronchitis (allergy testing?), removing a benign but growing cyst in my armpit, and getting the regular blood work and tests out of the way.  It’s part of Doing What Needs To Be Done (another motto).

When I looked at my priorities, I found I needed to make an adjustment.  I always thought I’d go back to school for a Master’s Degree, but it’s just not realistic for me anymore.  My ECT—induced reading disability seems to be holding fast and my financial situation hardly supports a return to college.  It was an old dream that just doesn’t fit who I am now.

My priorities now are Writing, Making Art and Growing.  My goals are to finish my novel, Callinda, by the end of the year and continue to blog at least every other day; make art every day and start drawing again.  As for continuing to grow, I’ve got a couple of things in mind.  I want to call the Animal Rescue League and see if I could volunteer a little bit.  I’m curious about other writers who love fan fiction and plan to research that.  Maybe I’ll find a kindred spirit or two.  I plan to spend more time at the public library, reading magazines I would never normally pick up.  I want to start at the beginning of the racks and work my way through them all.  I can’t wait to soak up all that new stimulation.  And lastly, I want to find a local chapter of the Sweet Adelines.  I miss singing, and maybe they’d take a croaky alto.  We’ll see.

One thing Gretchen Rubin did to keep her accountable to her new resolutions was to create a chart where she could track her daily activities.  She said the steady reminders kept her focused and the gold stars and check marks as she accomplished her goals kept her motivated.  I don’t know that I need more motivation than living saner, but I thought I’d try tracking my progress.  I loaded up my new iCalendar program so I can see at a glance what I’m doing and what I’m avoiding.  Meh.  We’ll see if the motivation outweighs the nuisance.

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