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Excited to tell you that an essay I wrote about the link between Prozac and Don DeLillo was just published on the Queen Mob’s Teahouse site.  Just in time for my birthday, too.  Link here:

Here

Often, when writing about painful or traumatic events, I find myself weeping. But, after a while, I feel better.  Is there a science behind this?  Yes, actually, there is.

I found a post by the American Psychological Association that claims writing about trauma may reduce your stress, boost your mood, and your immunity.  So, if you are writing about some painful topics, take heart, and know that even if it doesn’t feel good at the moment, this may be better than therapy.

Here’s a link to the APA article:

http://www.apa.org/research/action/writing.aspx

There was a moment when I was reading last night when I felt inextricably linked to the author.  These are moments I live for: that moment during reading when you know for sure it is the author coming through, and not a fictional voice.

I was reading an essay titled “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s” in David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays Consider the Lobster.  Though he skirts around it at first, the essay is about 9/11 and the reaction of his particular town at the time, Bloomington Indiana.  The event is referred to as the Horror, maybe in an attempt to give it an alternate or different meaning.

As DFW has no TV to watch the Horror, as soon as he hears what’s going on via radio, he jumps straight from the shower and heads to a fellow churchgoer’s home to watch. (I never thought of him as a church-going person, another revelation from this essay.)  But before this, before Tuesday, we learn what happened on Wednesday, the dreadful day after.

Wednesday was the day of the flags; American flags everywhere, planted in lawns “as if they’d somehow all just sprouted overnight.”   Showing your flag was somehow supportive not having a flag was, well,  bad.  DFW doesn’t have a flag and goes off in search of one, ending up in a convenience market, having a small breakdown.

DFW’s struggle with depression is well known at this point, though I’m not sure how well known it was at this time.  But there’s this moment in the essay, this one striking moment, when he is completely vulnerable, in a public place, in front of others:

“All those dead people, and I’m sent to the edge by a plastic flag.” 

His panic worsens as others ask if he is alright, and he ends up in the store’s storage area trying to calm himself.

This is so dead-on what it’s like to have depression, to feel panic, to be overwhelmed by something so small and so damn inconsequential.  It’s completely maddening.  And to be in public during an episode is the worst.

This single moment was a gut-punch to me.  I felt simultaneously tender towards the author, and as if I were looking in a mirror.  It feels so stupid to get worked up over something that seems so small, and yet… This is what emotional problems look like.  This is what they are.  Thousands of these kinds of moments make up what we know as depression.

Short excerpt from my memoir, She’s So Heavy.

searching for an afflated orgasm of the heart

*waste of a naked girl

when I think of it, of our naked bodies lying together on
the bed, in his apartment,
it is far away.  It was another lifetime.
afternoons and beers and long nights and his hands on my
body… that could not have been me, there is disparity
between me and her.  Me and Her.  Different girls.
She is naked and happy and lush.  I am — what?

A waste of skin.  A thing to be abhorred.

Nakedness does not become me anymore.
I have tried to stare this body down in the mirror,
tried to lay another picture, one I keep in my mind, of
this lush girl, over top of my reality.  It does not work.
The mirror cannot see what’s in my mind;
I can no longer look into the mirror.

What a waste of a naked girl.

(i used to have a body…

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I’ve been thinking about women’s narratives today, and how they are often overlooked and discounted.  And that led me to the VIDA Women in Literary Arts count for 2013.  Here’s how women stack up against men in major literary journals.

 

The VIDA Count 2013 | VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

The first book I picked up this year is Green Girl, by Kate Zambreno.  This has never happened to me before, but as I read it, it began to seem very familiar to me.  Familiar in the style, mostly, not as much in story.  And then it hit me:  this novel reminds me strongly of my own non-fiction work.

The protagonist of Green Girl, Ruth, is a lost soul.  She is having an identity crisis, sparked by a break-up and a death.  It’s the intensity of this crisis, the harsh internal gaze, the inability to keep up even the most basic of hygienic rituals, the masking of the internal turmoil, that grabbed me.  Maybe this looks so familiar because I know that state so intimately myself:  this is depression at it’s worst.  You get so steeped in it, you can’t see anything else.

Another similarity that struck me:  the use of repetition.  This is a device I use often in my own writing and appreciate when it’s done well.  Here, I think use of repetition serves the novel and the character very well.  Repetition can show how mired a person can become, how stuck in destructive thoughts and habits.  Thoughts can become symbols of illness, foggy, unclear, the brain trying to work out the crisis.  Rumination is said to be the brain’s way of problem solving, trying to work things out.

We see Ruth through her own foggy gaze, speaking about herself in the third person, evaluating herself through the gaze of her lost lover, who is still in the States.  Ruth has run away, literally, from her problems, run to the gray streets of London.  We don’t know much about Ruth, really, aside from her status as ‘green girl’ and her habit of making bad choices.  She seems almost apathetic about her life, another sign of her depressive crisis.  She is ‘dead inside’ or makes the appearance of it, pretends that she is dead, numb.

Then, a life-saving transformation:  a haircut.  It seems trite, trivial, but if you are at the bottom of a crisis, even a simple act such as cutting off all of your hair and changing at least your outward appearance can be a life-saver.  This is temporary, though, and the effects of it wear thin, soon.

There is a sense that Ruth needs ‘saving,’ that all of the green girls need saving.  Ruth is impressionable, a trait which shows strongly in the end.   And as much as I usually hate the endings of novels (this one being no exception), I had to wonder in the end what did I expect to happen to Ruth?  What other ending could there be?

The crisis of identity is a familiar theme, but I like the way Zambreno really lets her character wallow in it, because that’s really the only way to get through it.

I’m not a religious person, and so when asked why I wasn’t in the ‘Christmas spirit’ this year, I was surprised.  Yes, I do normally participate in all of the pagan rituals of Christmas, without the church-going.  But this being a tough year for me, and with my aversion to leaving my safe apartment and actually going out into the world and being around people, I really don’t want to shoulder any of the shame or feel the retributions of others who feel I should be ‘in the spirit.’

I’m not; and regardless of the many reasons, why should I feel bad about that?  Why am I required to feel a certain something just because it’s December?  This may be a national holiday and it may be a long-standing tradition, but that in no way impels me to participate.  I’m not bitter. I’m not opposed to anyone celebrating any damn thing they please.  I’ll give to charity and I’ll gift my family members.  But my spirit will be what it always is, one that is always giving, one that is a non-believer.

I’m the Charlie Brown of Christmas: I know I should feel something, but I only feel let down.  This is the same feeling I had when I actually realized that I was in fact, an atheist. I used to feel like I should feel something, but it just wasn’t there.  It was a lie that I told myself.

And I’m allowed to feel what I feel, right?  This is another frequent argument I have with others.  Don’t tell me how I should feel; I have a right to feel whatever emotions that come, regardless of what others want me to feel.  I think this is where empathy is very important; allow others to go through their emotions and stop dictating what you think those emotions should be.  Stop saying “Oh you shouldn’t feel that way!” and start allowing emotion to run it’s natural course.

Allowing me not to get the ‘spirit’ is only fair, to be honest.  I don’t go around proselytizing to you about becoming a non-believer, so stop pressuring me to participate in your religious rituals.  I feel this is a good compromise.

And, considering all the times I wrote ‘feel’ in this post, I feel I should end it here.

Just caught a glimpse of this wild fox right in my neighborhood!

wild baby fox

wild baby fox

Three non-fiction books and one short story collection is not necessarily a great mix.  I think the proportions are a little off, though, in truth, the short story collection reads like actual stories taken directly my childhood.  I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and Lorrie Moore’s collection Self Help reads exactly as the title suggests:  a manual for your childhood and early adulthood.  I love it, painful and uncomfortable as it is.

I just finished reading Alan Cumming’s memoir  Not My Father’s Son.  The title suggests some paternal issues, but it’s so much more than that.  There are many revelations in this book (none of which I will spoil here) and to a sensitive soul such as Alan, they prove difficult to navigate.  Cumming’s journey begins with the TV show “Who do you think you are?” — a show that searches out your roots, your genealogical secrets.  There are dual stories running throughout the book, as well as dual timelines:  the present (2010, during which he is filming the TV show) and chapters of “Then” which flash back to his childhood.  Cumming’s father was a brute of a man, abusive to his family in multiple heartbreaking ways.

What sets this memoir apart, in a spate of celebrity memoirs, is that Cummings is incredibly insightful; he has a strong sense of self. He is articulate without being self serving. Yes, he is emotional, but who wouldn’t be in the midst of the family revelations and drama he weathers? At an early age, Alan decides he will not feel shame about himself; this, to me, is in large part why he stays so strong.

Cummings writes short, descriptive episodes, writing dual stories about the present (which was 2010) and his childhood (only titled Then). There are some delightful photos throughout, and candid revelations. A quick, interesting read.

Two other outstanding books I’ve read recently: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Both incredibly smart, talented writers who put together two brilliant essay collections. (See also what Cheryl Strayed had to say in the New York Times regarding the “golden age for women essayists– why do we need a qualifier?)

Next, a return to fiction.  Can’t decide between Tartt’s A Secret History or Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay.  Any thoughts?

This has been my life the past few weeks. I’m reading two books right now that I highly recommend: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. Non-fiction is my genre of choice for reading and writing, though it can take a toll on me. Though light-hearted at times, both of these books touch on some difficult subjects.
I’ve also been submitting some non-fiction essays and hope to hear back soon. Or I’ll be wailing about rejection. Either way, I’ll report the results here!

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