Mental Health Monday: It Takes a Village

manicureDon’t let my title mislead you… this isn’t about raising children….

A well-dressed African American woman who appeared to be in her early seventies was sitting next to me on a bench, waiting for our manicures at a local nail salon this past Thursday. Her purse was open, and she was pulling things out of her wallet and spreading them out next to her—mostly business-type cards and miscellaneous small pieces of paper. After a few minutes she tapped me on the arm, held a card out towards me and asked me what it was.

I looked at the card and replied, “That looks like a membership card for the American Heart Association. Are you looking for something in particular?”

She waved the card in the air and asked, “Can I use this?”

“Use it for what?”

“To get my nails done.”

“No. You need a credit card. Like Visa or MasterCard. Or you can pay with cash. They don’t accept American Express or personal checks here.”

About then one of the salon owners walked over and asked the woman if she was ready to take her seat at one of the manicure tables.

“I can’t yet,” the woman replied. “I don’t have any money. How much do I need?”

“It’s $16,” the owner replied. “And we’re ready whenever you are.”

“Okay. Thank you.” The woman continued to look through her wallet, pulling out various cards and asking me what they were. At one point she handed me a blank check and asked what the words on it meant.

That’s when it dawned on me that she had dementia. I wondered how she even got to the salon, and it brought back flashbacks of the last times I took my mother to a nail salon before she moved to a nursing home over seven years ago. This woman’s caregiver had obviously removed her credit cards—as I had done for Mom at one point when she was in the early stages of dementia. I reached into my purse and pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to her. “This will take care of it.”

Her face lit up. “Oh thank you! Can I hug you?”

We both stood up and introduced ourselves, and then she embraced me in a warm hug. We sat back down, waiting for our turns at the manicure table. About then I heard someone call my name. I turned to see one of the manicure technicians who was working nearby motion me over to her table. She was working on another African American woman’s nails. The woman addressed me:

“She’s my sister. She is well educated, but she has dementia.” Her tone was defensive, and I immediately felt that I had offended her by offering her sister money, but I had no idea that her sister was there with her.

“Oh, I understand. My mother is also well educated, but she has Alzheimer’s.”

The woman warmed to that and added, “Our mother also has Alzheimer’s.” And then she looked over my shoulder at her sister and said, “Money isn’t the problem.” (Both of these women had on more beautiful gold jewelry than I’ve ever owned.) “We can’t get her to come over here at sit at the table to have her manicure.”

“Do you mind if I try?”

She shrugged.

I walked back over to the woman and said, “They’re ready to do your nails now… right over here in the chair next to your sister.”

“Oh really? Okay.” And she gathered her purse and sat next to her sister. At the same time my nail tech ushered me to the chair next to her. I watched as she placed the $20 on the table in front of her and smiled at me.

As both of our manicures began, I overheard her conversation with her nail tech, who had figured out the woman had dementia and asked her if she came with someone today.

“Oh, yes! I’m here with my friend Susan!” And she looked at me and smiled. Her nail tech, who knows me, looked confused, until I winked at her. Her sister, sitting just on the other side of her, rolled her eyes, but didn’t speak.

Later, when the woman got up to use the restroom, her nail tech slipped the $20 into my purse. I looked across the room at the woman’s sister, who was now getting a pedicure. She mouthed the words, “thank you,” and then smiled softly. Worlds of understanding passed between us, and tears filled my eyes. About then her sister came out of the restroom and asked with a panicky voice, “Where is my purse? Has anyone seen my purse?”

Her sister answered from the pedicure chair, “It’s in my daughter’s car. So it won’t get lost. It’s okay.”

holding handsThe woman sat down to wait for her sister. Her idle hands moved aimlessly in her lap. A pang hit my heart as I remember my mother’s panic when I took her purse from her. Eventually I gave it back—without any real credit cards inside. (Read about that event here, at “The Purse.”)

It seems like a lifetime ago when I was trying to help my mother get through this difficult stage of early dementia—the time when she still lived at home, or in assisted living, and tried to manage some of her everyday affairs. The transition from those days to nursing home care was rough, but eventually she seemed to be at peace. Of course I have no idea what’s actually going on inside her tangled brain, but she is at least comfortable and well-cared-for. She no longer gets manicures, so I often cut and file her nails when I visit her, unless her aids have done it for me. It takes a village—at the nursing home or the nail salon.

Faith on Friday: A Vaguely Spiritualized Gloominess

god-for-us-472x600Two weeks ago I did a post, “Friday After Ash Wednesday,” with quotes from and comments on an entry from the wonderful book, God For Us. The authors are from diverse Christian faiths—including Catholic, Episcopal and Orthodox. One of the editors is Orthodox. Greg Pennoyer talks about the Lenten season in his preface to the book:

Lent’s reputation as a time for the “denial of the flesh,” for self-flagellation and a vaguely spiritualized gloominess, made it much more difficult to engage. But my entrance into Orthodoxy, a set of challenging personal circumstances, and the desire to produce this book impelled me to learn more about what the great Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann called the “bright sadness” of the Lenter and Easter season.

And so today I read the selection (on the Western Christian calendar) for the “Second Friday of Lent,” by Lauren F. Winner, an Episcopal priest. She writes about how uncomfortable the readings from the lectionary are during this season of Lent:

They discomfit. They tell me that: a)my wrong-doing matters to God and b)I have a chance to decide what I want to do about that wrongdoing…. I think about my erring ways, and I feel very alone, very far away from God, very far away from a friend, close only to the sin.

Her words would be depressing if she stopped there. If she didn’t continue to say that she is not alone:

So I will let the saints who have gone before remind me that I am not alone. I have friends, I have a church, I have a pastor, and, above all, I have a friend in Jesus.

One of those “friends” Winner calls upon to help with her lonely Lenten struggle is the poet George Herbert, who writes:

Perhaps my God, though he be far before,

May turn and take me by the hand and more,

May strengthen my decays.

Winner explains about how “decay” refers to what happens to the organic materials when they are transformed by decay into humus. She uses this metaphor as a spiritual lesson:

That is Lent: the transformation of our organic materials under controlled conditions so that our raw ingredients are transformed into humus—into life, into fertility.

Her words help me as I approach the Orthodox calendar for Lent, which begins on March 14 this year.  I don’t look forward to the stricter fasting regimen or the longer church services. But maybe this year I’ll remember that I’m not alone. Even on days when I don’t want to leave the house. Or when I get disappointing news—as I did yesterday, when another literary agent turned down my request for representation for my novel. I take encouragement, again, from Pennoyer’s words in the preface to God For Us:

In Lent we learn that the meaning of life is not dependent upon the fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations. Nor is it lost within our brokenness and self-absorption…. Lent cleanses the palate so that we can taste life more fully. It clears the lens so that we can see what we routinely miss within our circumstances.

I hope to do more posts from this book during Lent. Here’s a teaser: an interview with Scott Cairns, an Orthodox poet and writer who contributes to the book.

I’m so thankful to these inspirational authors who are helping me avoid seeing Lent as “a vaguely spiritualized gloominess.”

Writing on Wednesday: Shaping the Chaos

After two failed attempts at writing my personal/spiritual memoir—the last manuscript was completed in 2010—this week I decided it’s time to try again. It’s not that my earlier attempts were awful. But I wasn’t ready to let go of agendas and bitterness. And as Dani Shapiro says (see source below), “A writer with an agenda is no longer trustworthy. She becomes an unreliable narrator of her own life.”

This time I think I’m ready. I’ve already put together an outline with potential chapter titles, and I’ve drafted a few beginning pages. For now the working title is the same as the one I chose six years ago: Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and Nuns.

51tlzQnuQzLPart of my preparation for beginning this work again has been reading a wonderful new collection of essays, Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, edited by Meredith Maran. Reading about the experiences and taking to heart the advice of such authors as Pat Conroy, Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, Jesmyn Ward, Cheryl Strayed, Kate Christensen and Dani Shapiro has only confirmed my feeling that this project is the right “next thing” for me. Several of these authors have echoed what I’ve learned (and blogged about) in the past about the importance of writing memoir as art and not as confessional. (For more on that, see my post in Writer’s Digest from 2011, here.) While it might be therapeutic, that’s not its purpose. As Dani Shapiro Says:

I’m not a believer in memoir as catharsis. It’s a misapprehension that readers have that by writing memoir you’re purging yourself of your demons. Writing memoir has the opposite effect. It embeds your story deep inside you. It mediates the relationship between the present and the past by freezing a moment in time.

I think I experienced that in both of my earlier attempts at memoir, and also in several personal essays I’ve written and had published. So what’s the purpose of memoir, then, according to Shapiro?

One of the greatest gifts of writing memoir is having a way to shape that chaos, looking at all the pieces side by side so they make more sense. It’s a supreme act of control to understand a life as a story that resonates with others. It’s not a diary. It’s taking this chaos and making a story out of it, attempting to make art out of it.

A supreme act of control. How do we do that? Kate Christensen’s essay contains this advice:

I was creating a voice, an “I”—as well as practicing a writerly detachment from emotion—an ability to record and relay extreme states in dispassionate, clean prose.

But practicing writerly detachment and controlling our emotions as we make art from our lives doesn’t mean glossing over the hard stuff. As Jesmyn Ward says:

You get the most powerful material when you write toward whatever hurts. Don’t avoid it. Don’t run from it. Don’t write toward what’s easy. We recognize our humanity in those most difficult moments that people share.

d03fc67e8e934c595a78eef22b42f0baI’ll close with a quote from Cheryl Strayed’s essay in the collection, because she speaks to the fears I struggle with as I begin this work, and to the reason I begin it in spite of those fears:

I don’t feel inhibited when I’m really working. When I’m working I’m split open and fearless. I feel inhibited when I spin my wheels wondering what others will think of my work. I’m fueled by the desire to give beauty and truth to the world via the sentences I construct. I really want that in this deep, core, essential way. There’s an ache inside me that’s soothed only by writing.

Amen. And so it begins….

P.S. Watch this fun interview with editor Meredith Maran and several of the contributing authors to Why We Write About Ourselves.

Mental Health Monday: Oh Crap, She’s Up!

backsliding-580x400Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward,” was just what I needed to read this morning. Although his writings are more of a spiritual than mental health nature, I don’t think we should separate these two important elements of our selves. In fact, I believe our mental, spiritual and physical health are tightly intertwined. So today I’m writing about two steps backward in my ongoing weight-loss journey.

After losing 17 ½ pounds over a period of five and a half months (and wanting to lose at least 15 more) I’ve come to see my “diet” as a new lifestyle. As my metabolism slows (and sometimes seems to come to a halt!) I need to learn ways to care for my aging body so that it will serve me in what I hope will be a couple more active decades.

This morning the scales showed that for the first time since I began this journey, I had gained weight. Two pounds. This didn’t surprise me—I’ve slipped back into old habits of mindless eating for the past few days. But thankfully I’m not letting it plummet me into depression and despair, as I once would have done. Instead I’m trying to learn from these “two steps backward.” Why/how did I let this happen? And how does Rohr’s lesson—which is really about how Holy Scriptures help us in our spiritual journey—apply to my backsliding experience?

Rohr says that three steps forward are like “moving forward toward the mercy, humility, and inclusivity of Jesus” whereas our steps backward are like “regressing into arrogance, exclusion, and legalism.” I can see God’s mercy in the weight-loss success I’ve had so far, especially given my history of sexual abuse and eating disorders. And I’m learning humility as I struggle to submit myself to a calorie budget on a long-term basis. And yes, when I slide backwards into mindless eating, I can feel the legalism clipping at my heels. The voices saying “bad girl, you broke the rules” or “see, you can’t really do this.”

crap shes upAnd so I begin again today, my spirits lifted by the reminder that it’s all grace, and that God wants me to succeed in this endeavor. To take care of the temple which is my physical body. And in the process—or maybe an important part of the process—to care for my mental and spiritual health. I’m actually looking forward to eating less and exercising more today. I feel better already. (This quote is taped to the lamp by my computer.)

Faith on Friday: Paraclesis Prayers to the Mother of God

MOGfornaveOn Fridays at noon we pray what is known in the Orthodox Church as Paraclesis Prayers to the Mother of God. I haven’t been to these in a while, but today I was anxious to entreat her on behalf of those for whom I have special concerns.

First I met a friend for coffee at Café Eclectic, which is only a few blocks from St. John Orthodox Church. It was nurturing to catch up with this friend, and we talked about our children, icons, and spiritual things, as well as our common love of art. I had a couple of hours of errands to run afterwards, but really wanted to go to the Paraclesis prayers first, and I’m so glad I did.

The priest sets an icon of the Mother of God “Directress” (because her hands are directing us towards her Son) on a stand in the middle of the solea, in front of the iconostasis. Several times during the prayers he censes the icon as we chant various hymns. The hymns are really prayers. Some are penitential in nature, and some are supplicatory. Some people had turned in the names of people they specifically wanted to pray for. I just prayed for “my people” silently in my heart as the names were called.

I believe the Mother of God hears our prayers and intercedes with her Son on behalf of those who pray to her, and for those for whom we are asking help. My busy afternoon of errands was filled with peace. Tomorrow is my mother’s 88th birthday. She is one of the people for whom I prayed today, and I know my prayers were heard.

Writing on Wednesday: The New Epistolary

plaques-and-tangles-300x225Back in October I did a post, “Plaques and Tangles, the Book,” about my decision to publish a book, Tangles and Plaques, which contains essays drawn from fifty blog posts about long-distance caregiving for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. (Someone in my writing group suggested I reverse the words in the title, and I like it better this way, too.)

Now I’ve begun the process of querying publishers for the project. I’ve decided to go with small presses, rather than seeking agent representation and hoping for publication with one of the big houses. In the past ten days, I’ve queried eight presses. I found the data base of presses in Poets & Writers. Fingers are crossed.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to share the Introduction to this collection here. You never know who might be reading…. So here it is.

 

The New Epistolary

 

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, epistolary novels—based on letters or journal entries by one or more characters—were all the rage. In today’s social media culture, blog posts have upstaged journal entries and letters. A collection of those posts could be called the new epistolary.

On November 24, 2007, I wrote my first blog post about my mother, Effie Johnson, and her journey with Alzheimer’s. Over the next eight years, I published more than fifty additional posts about Mom. With a little editing, those posts now appear as essays in this collection.

Why “Tangles and Plaques”?

The title comes from my blog post of August 13, 2012. Here’s an excerpt:

The brain has 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) that operate like tiny factories. Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of a cell’s factory from running well. As the disease spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.

With this loss of brain cells comes the loss of memory—the stories that make up the fabric of a person’s life—as well as the inability to perform everyday life chores.

Tangles and plaques tend to spread through the temporal lobe cortex and hippocampus as Alzheimer’s progresses.

Neurofibrillary tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau, which build up inside the cells.

Argyrophilic plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid, which build up in the spaces between nerve cells.

By the time this collection of essays becomes a book, it’s possible Mom may be done with the tangles and plaques. I’m hoping that she will have joined my father—her spouse of 49 years—on the other side, because the quality of her life after seven years in a nursing home so far—being fed through a peg tube to her stomach since January of 2013—is certainly not what I desire for her.

My close friends and relatives know that loving Mom and caring for her has been complicated by her emotional and verbal abuse of me (and my brother) for most of my life. Those issues are addressed in several of the blog posts comprising this book. The silver lining in Mom’s disease is that the same tangles and plaques that have stolen most of her memory have also erased the dysfunctional part: she has forgotten how to criticize and abuse. In her altered state, she is much easier to love. To forgive.

I live in Memphis and Mom is 200 miles away in Jackson, Mississippi. During these years as I have blogged about my long-distance caregiving, I have received many positive comments from readers, some of whom are also in the position of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s. It was an easy decision to gather these stories into a book so that I could share them with more readers. I’ve done only light editing, not wanting to lose the immediacy and voice of the original blog posts, which were written within a day or two after each visit with my mother.

I have tried to blend humor (“The Glasses,” “I Can’t Find My Panties,”) with pathos (“Disappearing Stories,” “End of Life Issues”); hope with despair, in these essays. Alzheimer’s is a universal issue, especially for those of us in the generation tagged the “Baby Boomers.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is “the only cause of death among the top ten in America that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed.” It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and more than fifteen million people provide care to people with dementia.

Mom is second generation Alzheimer’s. Her mother died with the disease at age 86—in the same nursing home where my mother now lives. Of course I watch my mother’s decline with fear and trembling. I often see myself in her place, and all I can do is pray for God’s mercy, and for a breakthrough in the research being done to try to stop this modern-day plague. It is my hope that my mother’s journey—and mine—will resonate with readers who share these struggles. I think you will find that the tangles and plaques aren’t only in our brains, but often in our relationships.

Mental Health Monday: Writing Our Way Well?

6765910337_34f7e57865-440x372I just finished editing 21 essays by a group of talented women authors for an anthology titled A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. As I organized them into five groups, loosely following themes and anchoring each section with a quote (this is the fun part) I noticed more than one connective tissue in this body of work. Of course there are difficult themes one might expect from such a collection—loss, suffering, illness, divorce, pain—and also upbeat stories of new careers, creative endeavors, and of course, love.

But an issue that runs through seven of those essays (although they aren’t all organized into one group in the book) is mental illness. Anxiety attacks and severe depression landed more than one of these authors in hospitals or long-term treatment centers.  Alcoholism plagued several writers in the group. One lost her younger brother to suicide when he was only nineteen.

I read this article from The Examiner a few years ago, which suggests that “writers are more likely to suffer from certain illnesses such as mood disorders, depression, and manic depression.” The article notes a number of famous people who suffered from mental illness:

Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Drew Carey, Vincent Van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, and Michelangelo have all battled depression, suicidal tendencies, Obsessive Compulsive Behavior, or Multiple Personality Disorder, respectively.

Another article (in Electric Lit) talks about writers and depressive realism:

Another possible explanation can be drawn from the theory of depressive realism, which essentially claims that depressed people are depressed because they see the world as it is—depressing. They are “sadder but wiser.” Writers have to be careful observers of human nature and society. Painters and composers can take inspiration from suffering; but writers have to: drama comes from misery—comedy, perhaps even more so. Depressive realists may often be drawn to writing for this reason.

I remember reading once that Madeleine L’Engle said governments are most likely to lock up writers and artists because they are “dangerous”—they see things as they are and expose truths that some would rather remain hidden.

thOne more reason sometimes given (in the same article) for mental illness amongst writers is that “those who undergo traumatic experiences that often lead to mental health and substance abuse problems may—consciously or not—turn to writing for its therapeutic value. Research shows that by writing about their emotional experiences, people can improve their mental health.” At least one of the writers in this anthology has stated that writing has been her salvation.

Whether or not writers (and other creative types) have a stronger tendency towards mental illness or not, I know that we often work alone, without the support group that can be present in a work environment. I say “can be present” because I know from the years I spent out in the work world that those environments aren’t always good for our mental health. I counter the hours I spend alone in my office writing with breaks for social media (I love Facebook) and “real breaks” for phone calls, coffee, or lunch with friends. I hold especially dear those friendships with other writers with whom I share so many struggles. In fact, I’m off to coffee with one of them right now, and only have to walk across the street to be with her on this rainy Monday morning.
Thanks for reading.

Faith on Friday: Friday After Ash Wednesday

Lent-2016-885x1024Great Lent doesn’t begin until March 14 this year. And Pascha doesn’t arrive until May 1. Wait… didn’t we just have Ash Wednesday?

Once again the Eastern and Western commemorations of these seasons are several weeks apart on our calendars. And once again I find myself wishing we were all “on the same page.” I’m already receiving blessings from my Episcopal friends’ Lenten journeys. Here’s an excerpt from my friend Ellen Morris Prewitt’s Facebook post on Ash Wednesday:

I’ve been all over the world wondering what my Lenten practice will be this year….  Today, at St. Mary’s Ash Wednesday service, in the course of talking about this and that, Dean Andy Andrews said, “Be generous.” Ok, I thought, that’s what I’ll do. This Lent, I’ll be more generous. Every time an opportunity to give—in any way—arises and I feel that constriction/assessment/flick to reality, I will recognize it, and move more deeply into whatever it is I’m being asked to do. #‎Lent2016‬

index_edited-1I love this because it’s a positive choice rather than a list of things not to do. This is also the emphasis in Richard Rohr’s essay, “Friday after Ash Wednesday” in the wonderful book God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter. You can catch up on my previous posts from this book here:

God For Us

God For Us: John and Jesus Awaken Our Souls

Are We There Yet?

In “Friday After Ash Wednesday” Rohr asserts that Jesus didn’t really preach fasting. In fact, when his disciples question him about it, he changes the subject and talks about the wedding feast instead (Luke 14:7-24). As Rohr explains:

This is how Jesus understands fasting, fasting from our prejudices, our superiority, and our ethnic divisions…. Jesus is inviting humanity to a common celebration at which all are invited, and the only fasting needed is from our fears and divisions.

The Orthodox Church has very specific rules for fasting, not only during Great Lent and the Nativity Fast, but all throughout the year, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays. If you’ve read my blog for very long you know that I have always struggled with this practice. During this past Nativity Fast, I agreed (with our new assistant pastor) to try it on a limited scale, and I did, perhaps, find some benefit in humbling myself to the will of another. But I still prefer the emphasis to be on love. And giving, as my friend Ellen said.

Rohr does say that

There is a place for fasting, and humans do need liturgies of lamentation in times of grief, but God does not need our fasting. Maybe we do, especially in this addictive society, but of itself it does not bring us into deeper union with God.

I’m sure many of my Orthodox friends will take issue with this, but I’m happy to see another approach to this season of Lent. I’ll close with the prayer at the end of Rohr’s essay:

Gracious Host, Loving Bridegroom, eternal wedding banquet God, show us when we need to fast and when we need to begin the eternal feast. Keep the party open, and help us not to close it down. Show us that the only fast we need is from ourselves, our smallness, and from our shriveled hearts. Amen.

Writing on Wednesday: Circling the Roman à Clef

writing

 

Last August I did a post, “Taking Liberties,” about fictionalizing the lives of real, historic people in a novel. I followed that post up with another one, “The Roman à Clef” which continued on the same subject. And now here I am, six months later, still pondering the matter. Of course, once an agent signs me, hopefully she will give me guidance on how to deal with the issue in my novel Cherry Bomb. For now, I continue to look for examples.

My current read (well, one of three books I’m reading) is Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (bestselling author of The Paris Wife). It’s a terrific book, by the way, about aviator Beryl Markham, safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who (as Isak Dinesen) wrote Out of Africa. Although McLain takes several paragraphs at the end of the book to explain how she researched the historical characters involved, she also includes this statement in the front of the book:

This is a work of historical fiction, using well-known historical and public figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

How’s that for clarity? Wondering about other books I’ve read recently, I looked in the front of Hemingway’s Girl, a novel by Erika Robuck, and found these words:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

T. C. Boyles’ wonderful book, The Women, about Frank Lloyd Wright’s three wives and one mistress, contains this Author’s Note in the front of the book:

The following is a fictional re-creation of certain events in the lives of Frank Lloyd Wright, his three wives—Catherine Tobin, Maude Miriam Noel and Olgivanna Lazovich Milanoff—and his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. While actual events and historical personages are depicted here, all situations and dialogue are invented, except where direct quotes have been extracted from newspaper accounts of the period.

One more, a short note in front of Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland:

Clara and Mr. Tiffany is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

Notice a pattern of legal language being used in these? And some are called “historical fiction” and others simply “fiction.” I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep Elaine deKooning’s real name in Cherry Bomb (which I would call fiction, not historical fiction) although over half of her “story” in the book comes completely from my imagination. I did disguise Annie Leibovitz, the photographer for Rolling Stone who appears in my novel, by giving her the name Lou Lieberman. Somehow it feels too brazen not to. And she is still living.

Do you enjoy it when authors take liberty with the lives of historical people in their novels? Or would you prefer we keep our fictional worlds separate from historical ones? I hope not, as my immediate thought is, “Where’s the fun in that?”

Thanks for reading.

Mental Health Monday: Valentine’s Day Revisited

I’ve been in Denver visiting kids and grands (and watching the Broncos win the Super Bowl at my son’s Super Bowl-watching party!) and as I begin my trip home at the Denver airport this morning, I’ve got Valentine’s Day on my mind. Why? Because I left Valentine’s gifts for all four granddaughters at their houses so I won’t have to mail them this week. And because, well, love is in the air, right?

The Denver Library holds an annual “Anti-Valentine’s Day Party.” This year it has a bit of a twist… they’re actually offering free weddings to five lucky couples, complete with cake, officiant and everything. Doesn’t sound very “anti” to me.

 

lonely_valentines_day_by_fallendeath13-d399h1u

 

My friend River Jordan wrote a short piece about the day for Pscyhology Today a couple of years ago, “Lonely On this Day of Love.” She talks about “the love we give in spite of the empty places in our lives.” It’s a good reminder to reach out to those who might not have a special someone—or even someone at all—in their life. I’ll be visiting my mother in the nursing home this Thursday, and although she doesn’t know what Valentine’s Day is—or even who I am—I’m sure her heart will respond to the visit and maybe a special heart gift.

 If you’re helping your children prepare cards or goodies to take to their classmates or friends, remind them to be sure and not leave anyone out. Help them find a way to make everyone feels special. Isn’t that what’s love does?

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