#Lent2018: To Re-spond or De-spond?

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280-193x300Two weeks ago I mentioned a book I’m reading, Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, by Nicole M. Roccas. As I continue reading, I’m impressed with the timeliness of reading this book during Great Lent, which begins today for Orthodox Christians. Yes, today is “Clean Monday,” and the journey to Pascha (Orthodox Easter) actually began last night with Forgiveness Vespers in Orthodox churches all over the world. (For reminders about Clean Monday, check out my post from 2016, “Gifts From the Sea on Clean Monday,” and from my old blog, ten years ago: “Forgiveness Sunday and Kites on Clean Monday.”)

This morning as I continue reading Nicole’s book, Time and Despondency, I’m especially struck by the crucial place despondency plays in our Lenten journey. From her chapter, “Time and Despondency”:

TO RESPOND OR DESPOND?

As pointed out earlier, acedia—the Greek term for despondency favored by the theologians of late antiquity—connotes the absence of care. In regard to time, however, despondency also manifests itself as a lack of responsiveness. Actualized time consists of re-sponding, unfulfilled time of de-sponding. Both words—respond and despond—contain the Latin verb spondere: ‘to pledge, promise, or guarantee.’ To re-spond literally means to make a fresh promise. When we respond to God’s love, we are essentially re-promising, re-giving ourselves—offering back to God what was given to us….

On the other hand, to de-spond means to lower or cancel a promise. It implies an absence of, or movement downward from, promise. And when we move away from response, when we descend from the opportunity to offer ourselves back to God—who is substance and fullness—our only option is emptiness. Death.

I read these words several times this morning, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten the eyes of my heart so that I could see what God was trying to say to me on this, the first day of Great Lent. I often dread Lent, rather than looking forward to this season with its greater number of (longer) church services and its stricter fasting program. But this year I feel a shimmer of hope—and the possibility of responding to the gifts God has for me during this season, rather than desponding, as I often do.

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Having recently met with my father confessor for help with this next leg of my spiritual journey, I was given advice for embracing the fast in ways that encourage me to respond, rather than to despond. And as my husband—an Orthodox priest—blessed our home yesterday afternoon with prayers and the sprinkling of holy water on the walls in every room of our house while my Goddaughter Katherine, visiting from Gulfport, and I walked with him throughout the house chanting the verses for the house blessing, I felt my soul responding to this annual tradition with hope. Yes, I have hope that this next year, and especially this Lenten season, will be filled with blessings as I learn to respond to God’s love in ways that will affect my relationship with others and my struggles with my personal demons.

And so I say bring on the fast and the longer, more frequent church services with the darker vestments and minor key music. This year I hope to respond to all of this with love, and not with despair. May God bless.

P.S. After posting a link to this on Facebook yesterday, my friend Erin commented about Nicole’s Lenten Reading Guide she just published to go with the book! Here’s a link to it.

 

Pre-Lenten Encouragement

TriodionIt’s been a couple of weeks since I blogged about my current (and life-long) struggle with disordered eating. (If you missed it, it’s here: “Courage and Hunger.”)

Since that post, I’ve made a spiritual shift that I’d like to share today. In the Orthodox Church, we are in a pre-Lenten period of the three weeks leading up to Lent known as the Triodion. The three Sundays in this time period, and the fourth Sunday, the day before Lent begins, are outlined here:

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Sunday of the Last Judgment

Sunday of Forgiveness

Many people take advantage of the Church’s intensified calendar (more services, longer services, stricter fasting guidelines, encouragement to give alms, special retreats and speakers, etc.) as a time to jump-start their spiritual lives. Taking a spiritual inventory, going to Confession, and working on “pet passions” that plague you are common activities during this time. I got a head-start this year, with a productive meeting with my pastor last week, and the healing sacrament of confession.

chocolateOne of the main things I went to my father confessor for help with is my ongoing struggle with the disordered eating I mentioned above, which has intensified since I quit drinking back in September. I’ve actually gained back seven of the fifteen pounds I worked so hard to lose last year. (I wrote about this struggle about a month ago, here: “120 Days.”) I shared with him my frustration that I couldn’t apply the same effort (and God’s grace!) that I use every day to not drink alcohol to disciplining myself regarding the junk foods that seem to have me in their grip. He offered me some encouragement—both spiritual and practical advice—and I’ve been praying about it a bit more. Somehow, today, I decided to throw away the rest of the fondue chocolates in the bag in my pantry and not buy any more. And at the grocery store the other day, I made the same decision regarding the kettle-cooked potato chips. I know the struggle isn’t over, but somehow making these decisions feels like a hopeful beginning.

In the area of spiritual food, Father encouraged me to “tithe my reading” this year, especially during Lent. I told him that I read almost 50 books in 2017, but only two were spiritual. Mostly I read memoir, literary fiction, and psychology/mental health books. So, 10% of 50 = 5, so I plan to read at least five spiritual books this year. I mentioned that I love Anthony Bloom’s books on prayer, and he agreed that they are a great place to start. I went to my “spiritual” book shelves and quickly found Living Prayer and Meditations on a Theme, both of which I read over twenty years ago.

Time_and_Despondency_cover_1400_px_wide__59137.1514922981.1280.1280And then I remembered that I had just gotten a new book, Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, by Nicole M. Roccas, which was just released last month. Nicole actually spoke at our women’s retreat at St. John Orthodox Church her in Memphis last year, but I was out of town and missed her talks. (She also has some wonderful podcasts, available here, on Ancient Faith Radio.) We’ve become friends on Facebook, and when I discovered her book I ordered it immediately. I started reading it today, and when I opened it, I found a quote on the page before her Acknowledgments by Anthony Bloom… and later quotes by Kathleen Norris. I knew right away we would be kindred spirits.

In the introduction, Nicole says:

I saw my despondency for what it truly was: a condition that robbed my entire self—body, soul, and spirit—of the freedom to dwell with Christ in love.

I immediately thought about Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind, which helped me quit drinking, because Grace talks about finding FREEDOM, although her approach isn’t spiritual. But truth is truth, and I believe God led me to read This Naked Mind as much as He has led me to Nicole’s book.

You might be wondering what despondency/depression has to do with disordered eating (or maybe you’re not wondering… maybe you already get it)… but for me, much of my junk-food addiction and binging have to do with depression. Nicole addresses this several places in the first chapter of her book:

Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness…. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination toward sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.

I probably have some degree of (undiagnosed) ADD… I’m always looking for some excitement in my life, and I get bored easily, which is a quick slide into depression. As Nicole says:

… we manipulate even necessary activities like sleeping and eating—normally peaceful and life-giving—to serve our apathy. They become desperate efforts to soak up the boredom leaking out of every orifice of life.

I’ve only just begun reading this book, but I look forward to continuing, and then to re-reading Bloom’s books on prayer. Oh, and to actually praying more. Even before we enter Great Lent. Stay tuned… I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this journey.

The Elephant’s Mother’s Nose

memory-test-002Yesterday afternoon I had an interview to decide if I qualify for long-term care insurance. I remember when my mother had this interview, which she failed. She was in her 70s and her dementia was already too obvious. I’m only 66 and hopefully still alert enough to pass. But I was surprised by the depth of the interview.

When the insurance company’s representative called early Monday morning, she told me that I would need to have the following information available for the interview:

Medical records for the past ten years, including:

names, addresses, and phone numbers of all physicians I had seen

all medications, prescription and over-the-counter, including dosages and conditions for which I am taking the medications

which physician prescribed each medication, when it was first prescribed, and whether or not the medications were correcting the problems

any surgeries, physical therapy, or other treatments; names of the diagnoses and outcome of the treatments

any diagnostic tests, i.e. MRI, CAT scans, EKG, EEG, stress tests, etc., and the results

any broken bones, treatment, and results

specifically any cancer (I’m a survivor from 2001), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.

any family history of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc. BEFORE AGE 65 (Thankfully they didn’t ask about after age 65, since both my mother and my grandmother died from Alzheimer’s, but the onset was in their 70s.)

I spent about an hour and a half before the interview, gathering all of that information from two file drawers full of medical files. Although it was time-consuming, I’m glad to have had a reason to compile this information into one (4-page) document for future reference.

One hour and 15 minutes of the interview was taken up with me verbally giving all of this information to the interviewer, and answering other specific medical questions. And then she asked something that surprised me:

How much time do you spend volunteering?

Volunteering? Does this have something to do with qualifying for long-term care insurance? Suddenly I felt defensive.

Um, I work.

Oh (surprised tone). What do you do?

I’m a self-employed writer. I work from home. I published three books last year, and drove over 9,000 miles to 40 events where I spoke about those books.

About how many hours a week do you spend on this work?

Well, on weeks when I’m not traveling and speaking, I spend about 30 hours a week at the computer, either writing or marketing my books. But then there are weeks when I’m traveling for several days, so I’m not sure how many hours that is.

Okay, so back to volunteering. How many times a month do you volunteer?

Seriously? (I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.) Well, since I work pretty much full time, my “volunteer work” is mostly spontaneous—taking a meal to someone who is sick or having a baby, visiting with a friend who is house-bound, that sort of thing. But I don’t really think of that as “volunteering.”

Okay. Let’s talk about exercise. How often and how do you exercise?

That one was easier: 3-4 times a week, 20 minutes on the elliptical machine.

The interviewer kept saying “thank you!” after each of my answers, with a tone one might use with a child, which was kind of annoying, but I pressed on.

CHT177480Finally, after one hour and 15 minutes of detailed questions, she got to the “memory” part of the interview. Of course. When my brain was tired. But thankfully it was really easy and only took about 15 minutes. First she asked me simple questions like today’s date, where I live, my name, address, date of birth, etc. Next she said a series of 4, 5 and then 6 one-digit numbers and had me repeat them back to her. She had me do a series of simple math equations. And then the fun part. (She was dealing with a writer, right?) She called out ten words, one at a time, and asked me to repeat the word and use it in a sentence. She did this twice, for some reason. And then a few minutes later, after the math quiz, she asked me to repeat as many of those words as I could remember. I remembered them all. In fact, I think I can remember them now: silver, orange, elephant, piano, mother, paper, glass, nose, captain, rope. Interesting selection of words, right? I think it would have been more fun if she had asked me to use them all in one sentence. Like this:

The elephant’s mother’s nose was decorated with silver and orange ropes, and the captain rode on top of the elephant reading a newspaper and drinking a glass of sherry.

So now we wait for the results—hopefully good results—and finalize the financial part of the application. It feels good to do this. Since my mother didn’t qualify for long-term-care insurance, she ran out of money after three years in assisted living and only a couple of years in a nursing home. Thankfully Medicaid kicked in and took care of her final years in nursing home care. Our situation is different, and this feels like the right thing to do. Our financial planner and the company we’re working with are reputable, and if we want to cancel the policy at some point, we get our money back, which is pretty amazing.

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Now if I can just remember where I put my cell phone….

Courage… and Hunger

In my first post of 2018, “Don’t Look Back,” I shared two more wonderful quotes from the Bright Ideas quotes and A Woman’s Book of Inspiration, two wonderful Christmas gifts from my daughter and daughter-in-law. I’d like to share two more today. (I shared my first quotes selections on December 28, “Bright Ideas and Inspirational Quotes.”)

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And from A Woman’s Book of Inspiration:

“Women have to summon up courage to fulfill dormant dreams.”–Alice Walker

cover-hungerOne woman who has certainly summoned up a tremendous amount of courage in her personal life and in the literary world is Roxane Gay. I just finished reading her memoir HUNGER yesterday… my seond book to read in 2018. (If you’re not familiar with Gay, some of her other books, short fiction, and essays are listed here.) The author Ann Patchett sums up how I feel about the book:

It turns out that when a wrenching past is confronted with wisdom and bravery, the outcome can be compassion and enlightenment—both for the reader who has lived through this kind of unimaginable pain and for the reader who knows nothing of it. Roxane Gay shows us how to be decent to ourselves, and decent to one another. HUNGER is an amazing achievement in more ways than I can count.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you know that since I quit drinking (on September 8, 2017) I’ve struggled more than ever with food issues, which is why I picked up Gay’s book. It’s not a “how-to” or a “I did it!” book. At all. But it’s so candid and full of compassion… and courage. Gay was raped as a young girl, and this is a testimony to the way that experience has shaped her life. Like Robert Goolrick’s powerful memoir, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, it’s a tragic but beautifully written description of what childhood sexual abuse does to a person. I did a guest blog post for Writer’s Digest in 2011 about Goolrick’s book and its affect on me and my writing here:

Writing Memoir: Art vs. Confessional

My essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day Search for Everything,” was published in the anthology THE SHOE BURNIN’: STORIES OF SOUTHERN SOUL in 2013. It’s really a look inside my own disordered eating. I think Roxane Gay would understand. As would Robert Goolrick. Here’s an excerpt from Gay’s book that reminded me of what I felt writing my essay:

When I am eating a meal, I have no sense of portion control. I am a completist. If the food is on my plate, I must finish it…. At first it feels good, savoring each bite, the world falling away. I forget aout my stresses, my sadness. All I care about are the flavors in my mouth, the extraordinary pleasure of the act of eating. I start to feel full but I ignore that fullness and then that sense of fullness goes away and all I feel is sick, but still, I eat. When there is nothing left, I no longer feel comfort. What I feel is guilt and uncontrollable self-loathing, and oftentimes, I find something else to eat, to soothe those feelings and, strangely, to punish myself, to make myself feel sicker so that the next time, I might remember how low I feel when I overindulge. I never remember. This is to say, I know what it means to hunger without being hungry.

And so as I continue my personal and writing journey in 2018, I’m inspired by Gay’s courage, and by her art. And by Alice Walker’s inspirational words.

120 Days….

treatment-120-days-badgeI had my last drink four months ago today, on September 8, 2017. (If you missed my post about quitting drinking, it’s here: “0 Meetings in 90 Days.”) Hopefully my brain cells are restoring themselves. Since both my mother and my grandmother died from Alzheimer’s, I’m hoping that my choice to be alcohol-free will help, although my grandmother never drank. Or smoked. And was never overweight. She lived a simple, completely drug-free life, but still died from Alzheimer’s.

So, this week we are signing me up for long-term care insurance. We’ve done our research, with help from our financial planner, and it seems like a good thing to do. Just in case.

A friend just sent me a link to this article in The Atlantic:

“Even Small Amounts of Alcohol Impair Memory,” by Olga Khazan.

Another reason to be glad that I quit drinking altogether, rather than choosing to try to drink moderately.

IMG_1176Meanwhile, my new struggle is to learn how to use the same cognitive process I used to quit drinking in order to change my eating habits. I feel a strong addictive pull towards certain junk foods that I once felt towards alcohol. I understand that this is common for people who quit drinking, but I want to get a handle on it. Fondue chocolate (I just melt it in a mug and eat it with a spoon) and kettle-cooked potato chips (I often eat a whole bag at one sitting) are my main two cravings these days.
Oh, and I’ve almost completely quit drinking Cokes, which I loved almost as much as vodka! But I’ve switched to Diet Coke with Splenda. I know it’s also not so great for me, but it’s a step in the right direction. Except that it has lots of caffeine. But I only drink decaf coffee (usually one cup in the morning) so maybe the caffeine from the Diet Cokes with Splenda (3-4/day) isn’t hurting too much. (When I was still drinking real Cokes, I only drank 1-2 of the tiny ones each day.)

Somehow I’ve got to re-introduce healthy vegetables into my daily diet. I probably only eat vegetables 3-4 times a week, rather than several times a day. Gonna’ work on that in 2018. I don’t have an actual “New Year’s resolution,” but the beginning of a new year does feel like a good time to set goals. For me, getting a handle on compulsive eating is #1, and starting a new book is #2. Since I’ve already published 3 books (with a 4th coming in May), writing another book definitely seems easier than quitting the chocolate and chips, but we’ll see how it goes.

What are your goals (personal? professional?) for 2018?

0 Meetings in 90 Days—My Final Post of 2017

90 in 90I had planned to post this on December 8, but I decided to sit on it for awhile, just to be sure I wanted to go public with it. Having returned from a wonderful Christmas visit with kids and grands in Colorado, and now as I prepare for our (almost) annual New Year’s Day/St. Basil’s Day party on Monday, I have decided that I want to share this important part of “my story.” This clarity came to me yesterday as I was checking out at the liquor store, where I purchased three bottles of liquor for “Mississippi Bourbon Punch,” a hit at many of our parties, and 8 bottles of wine. I realized that although I will be drinking sparkling water as I enjoy the afternoon and evening with friends, watching the bowl games and playing board games on the breakfast table, I won’t be “missing out” by abstaining from the (delicious) bourbon punch and wine. I didn’t know I would feel this way back on September 8, when I made a life-changing decision. So, here’s the post I wrote 90 days later….

0 Meetings in 90 Days—December 8, 2017

I’ve considered quitting drinking for a number of years, and I even visited an AA meeting once, about ten years ago. I read a good bit of their literature, and as happy as I am for the millions of people it has helped, it has never resonated with me personally. So, today I’m sharing a different approach that I discovered a few months ago. Why today? Well, if I was in AA, today I would be getting my 90-day “chip.” My last drink was on September 8.

AA encourages people to go to “90 meetings in 90 days” when they first quit drinking—either on their own or in a treatment center. I understand their reasons—those first three months can be tough, and people need support. It’s just that my support has come from other sources. I’d like to share a little bit about those sources, beginning with a book.

This Naked Mind coverI don’t remember how I heard about Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness, and Change Your Life.(Check out the reviews on Goodreads for responses from more readers.) I read This Naked Mind over one weekend (September 8-10) and made the decision to quit drinking before I even finished the book. This is the first time I’ve ever made this decision, although I’ve thought about it for many years, being concerned about the effect alcohol was having on my body and mind. But every time I considered it, I couldn’t imagine dealing with anxiety, stress, physical pain, and even social events without it. And now—90 days in—I’ve never been more hopeful about my life and my health.

There’s not one word about God or faith in this book—it’s strictly scientific and anecdotal. But I prayed fervently as I read, and I continue to pray every day for God’s grace to continue the journey. It’s been nothing short of amazing so far. Sure, there have been times (almost daily) when I’ve craved a drink, but by God’s grace I’ve been able to remind myself that (1) one drink is never enough and (2) any amount of alcohol is bad for me. You might not agree with that last statement, and I have no desire to argue or convince, but if you’re curious, Grace’s book has over 250 endnotes, many citing academic/medical/scientific sources to back up her mission, which she states clearly near the end of the book:

My mission, the mission of This Naked Mind, is to change how our society views alcohol, to expose the truth and to provide tools to change our direction.

Grace believes that alcohol is bad for everyone, not just for people who have or have had “problems” with it. Her view is that the alcohol is the problem, and that’s it’s bad for everyone. It’s an extremely addictive drug. She even discourages drinking moderately, citing how bad one or two drinks a day is for your health. She’s definitely an anti-alcohol vigilante, spreading her message through her book, websites, workshops, etc.

One thing that struck me as different about Annie Grace’s approach than any I had read before is that she blames the drink, not the drinker. Her tone throughout the book is positive, hopeful, and non judgmental. Her own story is woven through the narrative, which gives it a strong, personal message.

So, what does Grace mean by “the naked mind”? In Chapter 1 she says:

Did you know your unconscious mind is responsible for your desires?… Unconscious learning happens automatically and unintentionally through experiences, observations, condition, and practice. We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

She explains in much detail, which I won’t do here, how stressful it is when our conscious and unconscious minds are at war with each other, which she calls “cognitive dissonance.” And then she says:

Your opinions about alcohol and your desire to drink spring from the lifelong mental conditioning of your unconscious mind…. The goal of This Naked Mind is to reverse the conditioning in your unconscious mind by educating your conscious mind…. You can easily and peacefully end the conflict inside your brain.

And somehow, by God’s grace, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 90 days. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? And yet, I am experiencing this right now. Every time my unconscious mind tells me that a drink will help (relieve anxiety, stress, or pain, or enhance pleasure) I choose (with my conscious mind) to believe that it will not help, and I don’t take that drink. Whenever I’m tempted to have “just one,” I remind myself that one is never enough. That over the years I’ve conditioned my body to need more than one drink in order to get the relief or pleasure I’m seeking. And the conflict between my unconscious and conscious mind is lessening every day.

If you’re interested in what Grace has to say about how the alcohol industry markets their products (fascinating and scary) and also the details about the specific ways that alcohol is bad for you, read the book or check out her web site. And for my friends whose lives have been blessed by Alcoholics Anonymous, I hope that I haven’t offended you. I’ve just never been able to accept the theory that people who are addicted to an addictive drug have an incurable disease. As Grace says:

The nebulous idea of an addictive personality allows us to protect our precious alcohol. We focus on the addictive personality, which makes alcohol dangerous for them but not for us. We protect the alcohol and blame the individual. This takes hope away from the alcoholic, encouraging them to believe they are powerless against their personality…. A collection of traits, which can have positive or negative implications for someone’s life, should not be stigmatized and labeled as “addictive.”

I’ll close with a comment from Grace about moderation, which had been my goal before reading her book.  She explains about how dopamine creates tolerance, so that the brain craves more than just one drink. Her words ring so true to me, 90 days in:

Moderation is like an alcohol diet that will continue for the rest of your life.

Instead of struggling with moderation (and poisoning my body in the process) I am choosing to abstain, and I feel better than I have in years.

Blogger’s Block

We Can Do It! Rosie the RiveterUgh. I’ve been trying to think of something to blog about for several days… After posting faithfully three times a week for ten years (it was ten years in August) I’ve been struggling with my blog for several months now. Sure, I’m busy with a book tour and finishing up a fourth book project and all that, but writing—the thing I tell myself I live for—just isn’t coming easily these days. (Not only for the blog, but for my next project, which I can’t settle on yet.)

What am I doing instead? Binge-watching “Alias Grace” on Netflix (and wishing I could write like Margaret Atwood, who probably never watches TV), taking my computer to the Apple Store to get some wisdom from the folks at the Genius Bar (actually had a very productive session today), taking book festival posters to Michaels for framing (great Veteran’s day sale on custom framing), and binge-eating mango smoothies, my latest food obsession. So, this afternoon I started thinking about what subjects I used to write about the most on this blog. Here’s what I came up with:

My mother. Who died in May of 2016. I wrote over 60 blog posts about our relationship and her journey with Alzheimer’s between 2007 and 2016, most of which ended up as essays in my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

Iconography and spirituality/religion. I quit writing icons in 2012, but sometimes I still write blog posts about iconography, especially weeping icons and other aspects of this liturgical art that play a big part in my novel Cherry Bomb. So, I’ll probably still do some posts about icons in the future, but nothing is really grabbing me right now. And as all authors know, it’s much easier to write about something when one either has issues with it or is extremely excited about. Both of those things have been true about my relationship with God and my Church over the years, but I find myself in a calm and content place with both right now, which doesn’t give much fodder for my pen. You’ll be the first to know when either of them does something else to piss me off or something earth-shatteringly wonderful. (Not that the Virgin birth or Jesus’ rising from the dead weren’t big enough deals… and maybe I need to pay more attention to these events’ eternal wonderment.)

Mental health. Especially about sexual abuse, addiction issues (both food and alcohol), and depression. Instead of blogging about these issues lately, I’m finding myself reading more. I’ve just re-read memoirs by Mary Karr and Carolyn Knapp, and some of Joan Didion’s writing (and did you watch that amazing documentary about her on Netflix? In “The Center Will Not Hold,” Didion said, “Novels are often about things you cannot deal with.” True that.) I think what I’m finding as I read the wisdom of others and watch their talents on the screen is that I don’t have much to say right now that’s very important. I thought about blogging about #MeToo but so much has already been written about it that I don’t see a void to fill. But if you’re looking for something good to read about overcoming life’s adversities (and especially abuse and difficult childhoods) read Meg Jay’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “The Secrets of Resilience.” Dr. Jay is a clinical psychologist and has a book coming out on Tuesday: Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience. As I think about my own struggles and the horrific stories that are being shared on the media right now in the #MeToo “movement,” I think Dr. Jay’s words are very wise and timely:

Finally, remember the ways you have been courageous and strong. Too often we remember what has gone wrong in life rather than what we did to survive and thrive. Think back on a time when you were challenged and give yourself credit for how you made it through. You may already be more resilient than you think.

Good words to close with. Maybe next week I’ll have more to say here, although I will be traveling again with my book tour on two days and learning to Skype with a book club in Texas one night. Talking about my writing is so much easier than actually writing. Pray for me.

Morning Prayers

iconsIt’s been a couple of years since I abandoned my blog “themes,” but old habits die hard. I often find myself waking up on Mondays thinking it’s “Mental Health Monday”; on Wednesdays wondering about ideas for “Writing on Wednesday”; and on Fridays with “Faith on Friday” on my mind. That’s what happened this morning.

I’ve blogged about my Morning Prayers several times over the past ten years. (Yes, I’ve been blogging for ten years!) Here are a few. (Just click on any that interest you.)

“Holding On To the Ship’s Wreckage”

“Faith on Friday: Wisdom of the Saints”

Faith on Friday: God in the Morning”

“Faith on Friday: Just Do It!”

“Faith on Friday: If I’m Lucky I Pray”

“Mental Health Monday: Keep Calm and Pray”

“Saint Patrick, Morning Prayers, and Writing at the Beach”

Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions with my morning prayers. But that’s okay. God still hears them and my heart is softened by the process. But this morning—and many recent mornings—I was keenly aware of God’s presence. And also of the Mother of God, to whom I often pray. I always pray for my husband, children, my grandchildren, my Godchildren, our priests at St. John, and a few best friends and their families. Also for special “requests.” And when I have the energy, I pray for the world, and the people who are in such great suffering due to hurricanes and floods and fires and war and threats of war and domestic violence and poverty and….

I also pray for my own personal struggles, which often involve my health, both mental and physical. And personal relationships. The Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, which is part of my routine, continues to bless me, so I’ll close with it this morning.

O Lord, grant that I may greet the coming day in peace.

Help me to rely upon Thy holy will at every moment.

In every hour of the day, reveal Thy will to me.

Bless my association with all who surround me.

Teach me to treat whatever may happen to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Thy will governs all.

In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings.

In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by Thee.

Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.

Give me the strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will.

Teach me to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me. Amen.

“The Address,” “10 Days in a Madhouse,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”

9780525501527I just finished reading Fiona Davis’ wonderful new historic novel The Address. It’s about the Dakota, New York City’s most famous apartment house, built in the 1880s. Since I recently blogged about Authors’ Notes, I was interested to read Davis’ note, in which she explains that the book is “a blend of historical fact and fiction,” and then she went on to share some of the liberties she took, as I did with my Author’s Note in Cherry Bomb.

 

11212929_oriI noticed that one of the books that she used as a reference was Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House. Since Bly and the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum where she went undercover as a journalist in 1887 figured prominently in the book, I watched the movie on Amazon yesterday. Wow. Just wow, what those women endured!

 

And this might sound like I’m a glutton for punishment, but last week I binge-watched Season 1 of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” More wow. It was so dark, but I couldn’t quit watching it. I see why it won 8 Emmy awards. I haven’t read the book by Margaret Atwood, which was this summer’s most-read fiction book on Kindle, and now I’m not sure if I want to. I’m sure it’s excellent, but those images of abuse and patriarchal dominance are hard to get out of my head.

 Handmaid's Tale

So why am I reading and watching such dark stories? I’m drawn to the dark. To stories of abuse, addiction, dysfunction. And  I’ve always been attracted to historic fiction, especially when there are strong female protagonists/heroines. Of course The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t historic fiction… more like futuristic/dystopian fiction, which is scarier in many ways. My novel CHERRY BOMB has three strong female characters and several pretty strong minor characters who are also women. And the two novels I’m considering writing will continue to focus on strong women who endure suffering and either find healing or make a difference in their life and the lives of others. I hope I’m up to the task. These writers have set the bar high.

Moments of Happiness

The-Happiness-Project-Book-Review-Gretchen-Rubin

 

I recently ran across Gretchen Rubin’s website, and read about her new book The Four Tendencies.  Then yesterday at the Atlanta airport, we were having lunch inat the Intermezzo Café/Buckhood Books, and right by our table, The Four Tendencies was on a shelf looking at me. After taking her quiz to discover which “tendency” was dominant in my own personality, I was fascinated and subscribed to her daily quotes. This one from September 7 was especially meaningful to me:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
- Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

And this one from September 12:

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am.”
- Thomas Merton, Journal

Okay, here’s one more from September 13:

“Of all the tasks which are set before man in life, the education and management of his character is the most important, and . . . it is necessary that he should make a calm and careful survey of his own tendencies, unblinded either by the self-deception which conceals errors and magnifies excellences, or by the indiscriminate pessimism which refuses to recognise his powers for good. He must avoid the fatalism which would persuade him that he has no power over his nature, and he must also clearly recognise that this power is not unlimited.”
- William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life

If you haven’t discovered Gretchen Rubin yet, maybe you’ll check out her website, books, or subscribe to her daily quotes. As a person who has focused on a lot of darkness in my life, I’m happy to be finding some points of light.

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