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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Nekomah Creek: Life Imitating Art

During a recent overnight with our grandson at Wake Robin Farm, I was  lucky enough to experience one of the high points of my life as a writer.  Nolan, 5, asked  for another shot at having me read my novel Nekomah Creek to him.  We'd started in twice before, but both times he'd informed me early on that he just wasn't ready for it.  But this time, he was laughing his head off and kept begging for one more chapter. Yeah, okay, he was mostly squealing in delight at the low-hanging comedy fruit of food being thrown by unruly children, but still, it was my book and my grandson, enjoying a story based on his own father's childhood.  I ate it up.

 

I wrote Nekomah Creek ( Delacorte Press, 1991) in an effort to show my oldest son Miles that I truly was sympathetic to the impact of baby twin siblings on a kid who'd been functioning as an only child for almost seven years.  By the time it came out, though, Miles was in middle school and mainly wanted to distance himself from his writer mother and any book purporting to explore his private thought processes.  "Robby Hummer is you, Mom, not me.  You put your thoughts in his head."

 

Well, he had me on that.  It's true for any writer doing a first person story about anyone other than themselves. Robby Hummer was my best effort depiction of Miles at nine, but I consciously added something of myself to the character, a creative streak that was definitely not Miles.  In the book, Robby Hummer, gets deeply engrossed in making a diorama showing his house and the bridge over the creek.  That was definitely me, and it was spooky almost, to be reading this to my grandson, because he's the one who has my genes along those lines, and seems more like Robby Hummer in this way that his father.  I had told him stories of a Japanese doll garden I'd made as a child, complete with a tin-foil creek, and he in turn had already produced several variations on this theme in our backyard art studio. He just loves to make things and I love indulging him with all the art supplies he requires.

 

"Grampa," he said, between chapters two and three, "Grammie says she hasn't even read this book herself in years and years!" 

 

True, and what an odd, interesting experience this makes for a writer, especially reading the way I depicted the two-year-old twins, based on my own Mary and William, and feeling that yep, those were their personalities.  Thirty years later, they're still working with those same traits, Will interested in learning and playing by the rules, Mary boldly looking to flout them. Both darling as ever!

 

The thing that really jumped out of the book at me though, was my school yard bully, Orin Downard.   He mocks Robby by pretending to shoot the wildlife drawings Robby's painstakingly working on—"Blam! Blam! Run li'l Bambi, run!—and  takes pride in thinking up and calling everybody names: "Hippie! City Boy! Wimp!"

 

Why was he like that? Robby wonders.  Most of the kids didn't much care whose parents did what. They hung around with certain people because they both liked baseball or Nintendo.  But Orin kept wanting to sort people out and divide them up.

 

Wow.  Who does that sound like? When I was working on this in the 1980s, I certainly never dreamed that by the time we were raising a new generation, we'd have for a president an actual schoolyard bully.  I'm proud to say though, that at this time, while I was working on the book, ten-year-old Miles had for some reason pasted a picture of Donald Trump in a scrapbook he was keeping and drawn devil horns on him.  How prescient was that?

 

So  I like to think the Crews have been onto this joker for a long time.  Now I just hope the Republican wimps in Congress (yes, I'm calling names!) will do their duty and help free us from this clearly deranged person we've been forced to suffer as our President. How much more damage are we going to let him do?

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Kissing Bobby Corcoran

Since I still live right here in my home town, it was no trouble at all to show up at the Corvallis High Class of '69 Fiftieth class reunion, and the high point for me, hands down, was reconnecting with my fourth grade boyfriend, Bob Corcoran.  Like me, he has a solid marriage, kids and grandkids.  He's still cute, fit, and the same sweetheart of a guy I remembered. In high school he was all district half-back on the football team and I had leads in the plays. This made for an uncrossable line in the social hierarchy of the times, and we never talked about anything, much less our grade school romance. So, that Saturday night at the Country Club, I was tickled to learn that he remembered meeting to kiss, all those years ago, in the vacant lot on the far side of my block.

 

I told him I'd written about him in the flashback chapter of my memoir, Wedding in Yangshuo, where I explain what a ridiculously romantic little girl I'd been:

 

When I fell in love with Bobby Corcoran, the coolest, cutest boy in the fourth grade—ask  anyone who went to Garfield Elementary—I  clearly remember thinking, "At long last….love!"  Because I honestly felt I had been waiting for this my entire life.  All ten years.

 

Ah, the wonderful month of May, 1961.  Bobby even gave me a ring—silver and black, with Chinese characters on it.  I was pretty sure they must have meant ALL MY LOVE FOREVER, but as far as Bobby was concerned, love ended that year with the start of baseball season.

 

I nursed my broken heart for two whole years.  Yes, the very years when, as the perfect soundtrack for this torch-carrying episode, the song "Bobby's Girl" topped the charts.  As in, that's what I wanna be, that's the most important thing to me etc.

 

I still loved Bobby Corcoran when, in sixth grade, he gave that new girl—Shirley Something—a rhinestone heart necklace.  That killed me. I wonder what happened to her.  I wonder if she still has that necklace like I still have the ring with the Chinese characters.

 

Good thing I saved it since now I have a son who translates Chinese for a living and can tell me what the characters mean. They mean GOOD LUCK, Miles tells me.  Perfectionist that he is on the smallest of translation jobs, even such personal ones for his mother, he feels compelled to point out that this is good luck using characters as it would be spoken in Cantonese, not Mandarin. 

 

GOOD LUCK.

 

Well, I can go with that.

 

Thanks, Bobby.  As it turns out, I have been lucky. 

 

So lucky.

 

And now Bobby tells me he remembers the ring, remembers buying it in San Francisco's Chinatown with his family the previous year.  When I told him how my heart had been broken over that necklace he gave Shirley, the new girl, he was shocked.  "I never gave her any necklace," he insisted, "I gave YOU the ring."

 

Wow.  So much heartbreak for nothing.  Since I never lied, I never thought anyone else did either.  Maybe she just made that story up because she wished the necklace she was wearing had been a gift from him.

 

In comparing all the details we remembered, I find I'm struck not by the fact that at ten, we were out in the grass of the vacant lot, experimenting with kissing, but that we had the freedom, in those days, to ride our bikes around the neighborhood at will, as long as we showed up at our suburban tract homes in time for dinner.

 

Bob remembered the special advanced assignment our 4th grade teacher, Ruth Jones, gave the two of us: to measure every room in our houses and draw floor plans.  I so wish I could tell her this, but Ruth died recently.  About a year ago a group of us gathered to dedicate a "Buddy Bench" to her on the playground of the last school where she taught--Adams Elementary. If you haven't heard, Buddy Benches are for kids to park themselves if they need a playmate, in hopes of being joined by some other solitary—sort of a pre-internet playdate site.  I have no idea if they work.  I'll ask my grandson Nolan about it.  He just started kindergarten at Adams.

 

If you stay in your hometown, the connections never end, and you can find yourself driving by the site of every memory on a daily basis.  Sometimes when I'd get a pedicure at the salon that occupies the site of what used to be our vacant lot trysting place, I'd think about kissing Bobby Corcoran and the wonderful taste it gave me of all the joy life might hold.

 

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Marianne Williamson

Like a lot of other people, when I watched the last Democratic Presidential Debates, I was intrigued with Marianne Williamson.  I am an early, all-in supporter of Elizabeth Warren, and I don't feel Williamson's background is what we need in a president, but damn, I loved the emotional, non-political way she called out the darkness of the current administration.  I was not at all surprised to read later that, during the debates, hers was the most often searched name, because I was one of those millions who sat there with my phone and did just that.

 

I had not previously read her books, but when somebody is this popular and so many swear by her, after a point I'm willing to see what the fuss is about.  I didn't download her latest, A Politics of Love, because, as I said, I don't think she's presidential material.  Instead I went back to her first big hit, Return to Love, and started reading it on my Kindle each morning while I pedaled my stationary bike.

 

Her life is inherently interesting to me since we are the same age, which means we were experiencing the same cultural and historical influences at the same time. (Turns out that's about all we have in common, though.)  I let her words wash over me each morning, and a lot of it makes sense in the way it does coming out of other self-help/spiritual/Buddhist writers…..We can't change others, only ourselves.  It's better to give out love than hate.  We can't control everything, so give up trying etc. 

 

I appreciate that she uses some of her own stories for illustration, but I'm finding I just can't relate.  She had a crush on a gay guy and had to go to a lot of trouble to "release him," she pats herself on the back for directing a new boyfriend to give his ex a call to make her feel better, she spends two weeks mentally forgiving a guy for standing her up for a date, then blows him off (but oh so wisely and nicely) when he finally calls.  Marianne!  It's not that complicated!  If a guy stiffs you, he's a flake, and unless you want to hook up with a flake, that relationship is over as soon as he doesn't call the next day with an amazingly good excuse, like he's in the hospital after a car accident.

 

Apparently  she wrote this book just after she had her one baby, a daughter.  According to Google, she has never named the baby's father and at one point mentioned in passing that she had once been married "for about a minute and a half."

 

So, I'm wondering: Where's the advice for the people not experiencing an on-going dating life? Worrying about whether guys are telling you often enough how desirable you are?   What if you're sticking with the same guy, one day at a time, for forty-five years?  Honestly, Marianne Williamson doesn't have a clue about the three-ring circus grown children and grandchildren can produce.

 

But then, when you check it out, isn't that the case with a lot of these self-help/spiritual advisors?  The people who write books telling others how to live don't necessarily have the personal lives you'd most want to emulate.

 

Oh, well!  Good for her for speaking up against Donald Trump!!! (Trumpian exclamation points!!!)    

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Simple Pleasures

I lost a lot of friends during my recovery from physician-prescribed drugs. The whole thing was just too baffling for many.  As I started to feel better more often, more reliably, I looked forward to rekindling certain relationships, only to lose some permanently, to death: my beloved 4th grade teacher, Ruth Jones, and our dear Neskowin friend, Julie Steiner.  So this year, determined to avoid regrets, when my old roommate from Lewis & Clark College once again suggested we come hang with her and her husband at their log cabin in Wyoming, I finally said yes.  I don't like the term "Bucket List."  I don't want to think about dying or time limits.  What I do believe in is the power of NOW.  You can't go wrong by refusing to postpone indefinitely. So my husband and I booked a road trip around Yellowstone and the Tetons which would end with a relaxing few days at this cabin at the charmingly named Ten Sleep Creek in the Bighorn Mountains.

 

Cathy and I roomed together just one term our freshman year, but what a term the spring of 1970 turned out to be:  Nixon announced we had already started bombing Cambodia, the Kent State massacre left four students dead and nine wounded, the astronauts of the Apollo 13 mission sweated out their aborted mission on the far side of the moon, somebody inaugurated the first ever Earth Day.  And  freshman  Linda Welch boldly sat down opposite junior Herb Crew in the Lewis & Clark dining room, two people loners enough to show up for dinner without a gang of supportive roommates.

 

I thought this guy was the cutest thing I'd ever seen, and when his big brown eyes kept darting around in full-avoidance mode, I finally said, "Why won't you look at me?"  And so began the lifelong conversation.

 

Cathy was there, in my life, for this.  I probably acted out the whole encounter when I got back to the dorm room, the scene that would mark the beginning of The Story of the Love of My Life.  It was Cathy who took the one and only picture of Herb and me together that spring.  This was the Olden Days, remember.  We were not all walking around with smart phones, documenting every waking minute.

 

By the end of that term, Cathy and I were both a mess.  Accustomed to the wide open spaces of her home in Worland, Wyoming, the wet winter of the Pacific Northwest had depressed the hell out of her. In theory, our dorm windows framed a view of Mt. Hood, but that particularly miserable, rainy winter, we never saw it at all. Long distance wasn't working out with Cathy's high school boyfriend, and he was breaking up with her. She was beating it back to Laramie for the rest of her college years.

 

As for me, four years after my life altering encounter with a sewing needle I'd knelt on, that damaged knee, to my great alarm, suddenly swelled up.  My summer job as a camp counselor was out of the question and in a month I'd be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Erroneously, as it turned out, but it did mark the beginning of a nasty period of repeated knee surgeries.  I, too, bailed on Lewis & Clark, transferring to the University of Oregon.

 

I am ashamed to remember my attitude when Cathy used to reminisce about her family's cabin in Wyoming that spring. It wasn't even on a lake!  How could somebody sit in the woods in a cabin that wasn't lakefront?  My childhood wasn't luxurious by any means, but during the Depression, my grandfather had bought a funky  cabin on the Oregon  coast at Yachats where we had only to scamper down the sandy cut to be on the beach.   Our camping trips were budget friendly, too, but I still remember my mother's stomach-churning  anxiety as we towed the motor boat towards one of the mountain lakes we frequented.  What if we didn't get a lakefront campsite?  Second row back would not do!

 

I'm wondering if Cathy ever told me back in college that her cabin was on Ten Sleep Creek, so named, I've now learned, because it was ten days travel from Fort Laramie, Yellowstone, and the Indian Agency on the Stillwater River in Montana.  It seems like I would have remembered such a charming name, but back then, I was still thinking I'd be an actress.  I hadn't yet thought of writing as a career, and words and names didn't  have the magic and power over me they would in the future.

 

So, forty-nine years after first hearing about this cabin, we were now booked to visit. I will confess to a slight trepidation when it was mentioned just before our boarding the plane for Billings, Montana, where we would rent a car, that this cabin was actually serviced by outhouse.   And the shower was reportedly some sort of outdoor contraption.   So we would be shifting from upscale hotel and cabin accommodations to a sort of "glam-camping." 

 

But the minute we pulled up to Cathy's cabin, its peaceful, down-to-earth, authentic  perfection was clear. No huge effort at being a good sport required.  The porch faced out onto the meadow, snow peaks of the Bighorns in the distance.  Ten Sleep Creek—really, you could call it a river—had enough clean mountain water rushing over rocks to deliver that blissful white noise clear across the meadow.  The interior looked like something right out of one of my many "cabin-style" coffee table books.  But Cathy had never looked at any such books and copied; her cabin had simply accumulated its décor since it was built in the 1920s. Photographers for the cabin porn books could have copied her.

 

I was surprised how fast I got used to the outhouse.  The smell of the disinfectant took me right back to my days at Camp Kilowan when I was young.   And the outdoor shower, after getting sweaty on a gorgeous hike, was absolutely delightful, probably the closest thing to the skinny dipping of my youth as I am ever likely to experience again.

 

Cathy and I sat around trading notes about being nineteen together, filling in the blanks of our stories for each other.  I was surprised to learn her big beef at me—never expressed—is that I apparently made no effort whatsoever to decorate my side of the dorm  room, forcing her to look at the blank wall.  I had no idea.  And it's weird, because now I'm kind of the queen of arranging paintings and décor around here.

 

We told the back stories of our families, something that held no interest for us our freshman year. Life, then, was so immediate, so ALL ABOUT US, that we could not have cared less what had gone on with somebody else's parents, much less their grandparents.  Mostly we were trying to pretend we sprang fully formed onto the world's stage without family at all.  Now, though, we told the stories and made the connections. One was that it seemed likely Cathy's mother would have known Herb's mother at Occidental College in California, since they were the same age, there at the same time. Hey, I wonder if Cathy's mom ever came over to Millie's dorm room and sat on the rosebud bedspread I just finished revamping. 

 

Mostly Cathy and I marveled at how satisfactorally our lives had turned out, given the dramatics of that fateful spring term.  For 45 years we've been married to these husbands of ours, the rare type who, at this age, are wistfully referred to as "lovely men."  We each have three small, adorable grandchildren.  Cathy always wanted to be a social worker, and that's what she did. Just after retiring last year, she was called upon to volunteer her skills in the shelters for the flooded out folks of Fremont, Nebraska, their hometown.  I was terrified of becoming "just a housewife"  that spring, having just read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.  I've always felt that by writing and publishing my own books, I did, at the least, succeed in escaping what seemed to me then as a terrible fate.  

  

After a morning of hiking or checking out nearby petroglyphs, Herb and I loved dozing on their porch, cooled by a pleasant, pine-scented  breeze, lulled by  the sound of Ten Sleep Creek and the soft, distant rumble of thunder over the Bighorns.  I couldn't help but think of all that we had lived through to bring the four of us together in these blissful, precious moments.  Herb and I talked about it, what a great thing they had here, what a good idea Cathy's father'd had in buying the place almost sixty years ago. They now have the fourth generation enjoying the place, carrying on traditions, babies taking baths in washtubs under the pines.  They've held onto it all this time and now they're sharing it with us and what they're giving us, money cannot buy. You can pay a fortune for a chi-chi cabin someplace with indoor plumbing, but you cannot buy waking up in a bunkbed with your friend's husband starting the crackling fire that reminds you of being a kid at your own beach cabin. You cannot book a huge moose to go thundering by your cabin faster than you can grab a camera.  You cannot buy a friend who remembers you at nineteen, when you were pretty crazy, and still has the kindness and bravery to say, "Hey, come hang at our cabin."

 

Thank you, Bill and Cathy.  A five star rating for unforgettable Ten Sleep Creek.   

     

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Warning to Hopeful Writers

I first started writing in total isolation here at Wake Robin Farm. Nobody for feedback.  No writers group, no writer buddies. This was long before the internet, so I'd get excited when my copies of The Writer and Writer's Digest would arrive in the battered mailbox out by the road.  I remember reading them in the hammock strung between two oak trees, just happy that I had this one little thing I intended to pursue entirely on my own.

 

Finally, for feedback, I sent one of my short stories to the Wrtier's Digest critique service.  I couldn't believe my amazing good luck when the writer assigned to me was Merrill Joan Gerber, my favorite Redbook Magazine fiction contributor.  I was thrilled to have her help me with a couple of my stories. She gave me solid advice.

 

But then she said, "You don't need me.  You should be sending your work straight to editors."  She didn't feel right, she said, knowing a good chunk of my critique payment was going to Writer's Digest. She lamented that those working for the critique service were told to encourage even the worst writers, the better to keep that money coming.

 

Interesting. And I appreciated her levelling with me.

 

For many years thereafter I did not have to deal with the concept of people trying to make money off of my hopes.  My books began to be traditionally published by Random House, and everybody who helped me polish and promote those books had the same goal I did, to come up with the best product possible and make money off of its sale.

 

Enter Self Publishing.

 

Long before I actually tried self publishing with my two recent memoirs, I came in contact with the concept when members of the Authors Guild were invited to take advantage of a deal the Guild had worked out with iUniverse to bring back into print the works of  authors who had formally reclaimed the rights from their publishers. It was free for us, and the books were decently produced. What's not to like?

 

Then the phone calls from the relentless iUniverse salespeople started coming, and I am embarrassed to admit that my closets still contain far too many cartons of my own paperbacks. These people were totally hard-sell!  And it's difficult to resist going for the larger quantity in order to get the best price break. Also, I hadn't quite figured it out yet: beyond what iUniverse collects from non-Author's Guild  authors as upfront production costs , they must be making a good share of their money from selling cartons of books to the authors themselves, not  to individuals on their website.  I mean, when was the last time you went book shopping at the iUniverse site?

 

Now Self Publishing has exploded, and there are tantalizing stories of a handful of individuals being incredibly successful.  Wasn't that Matt Damon movie about the guy stuck on Mars based on a self-published  book?  A huge industry selling publishing services has sprung up around all the hopeful writers.  Yes, people might need editors and cover designers, and I'm sure many of those freelancers out there offering these services are highly talented and completely legit. But most of the services offering "promotion" must surely border on outright scam.

 

These are the calls I get these days, two or three a week. Almost always the caller has a thick accent, and I feel so bad that this is what they're forced to do for a job, convince some hopeful writer to throw good money after bad in  trying to promote their self-published book.  When somebody tries to claim they have carefully vetted my thirty-year-old book and wants to discuss it with me, clearly, it's bogus. Because I know better!  But I worry for the self-published author  who would so desperately want to believe  that somebody thought her book was great.  Clearly, when so many of these callers leave numbers asking for a return call, (because they just can't wait to talk to you!) there must be people falling for it. 

 

One caller asked if I'd like to go to the Los Angeles Book Fair. Sure, I said, and you're going to pay for my trip?  Because when you're actually getting properly published, that's how it works.  The publisher gives you a plane ticket to the Miami Book Fair and a hotel room overlooking the bay and somebody throws in a thousand dollars a day for you to speak in schools and pretend to be a celebrity.

 

My husband and I don't spend long on these calls now.  We've got it down, and the bottom line is this: if the caller wants to pay me money for the rights to one of my titles, I'm interested.  If their plan in any way involves me sending  them money, then, no. This shuts them up. After all, a con only works on hope, not cynicism. 

 

No, I don't worry about inadvertantly turning down anything legitimate.  I figure if Reese Witherspoon ever calls,  she'll at least be able to say the title of my book correctly.

 

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Benzobuddies Revisited

This comment showed up on  a blog post I wrote a year ago, so I thought I'd move it to the top where people would have a better chance of finding it. Everything the commenter writes here rings true to me regarding the webside, Benzobuddies.org.

 

 

June 06, 2019 8:27 AM EDT

I experienced the same thing on BenzoBuddies. At first it was a great forum and others on that forum helped me through the toughest times of my withdrawal. After I healed, I thought I would pay it forward. I was doing a good job helping others and then decided to introduce outside sources of hope and encouragement. I was instantly reprimanded and when I complained, they pretty much locked down my account to where I couldn't post anything without moderator approval, nor could I Personal Message anyone. My account was for all intents and purposes...worthless and not usable. I told one moderator in particular that you need people on the site that healed to help and give hope to others. She dismissed it and said I thought I was "special" and "better than everyone else." Because I volunteered my time on the site? Needless to say I don't go on BBs any longer. Their draconian rules are only meant to stifle what they claim they are about, which is giving others hope. Too many rules, too many moderators on a power kick and too political...that's how I would sum up BenzoBuddies. Plus too many hard core people that claim they never heal when they don't tell "rest of the story." Almost all of those cases involve being poly drugged and having preexisting medical conditions prior to any type of anti-psychotic drug use.

- Igotmylifeback

 

 

Like this poster, while I was initially relieved to find the Benzobuddies site and learn that I was not along in the hell I was going through in withdrawal from Xanax, the place quickly became a negative in my life.  The nastiness shown to me by certain members and moderators was hardly conducive to healing when what is so sorely needed is kindness.

 

I right away broke the unspoken Benzobuddies rule that says it's okay to go on at length about the amazing book you're going to publish just as soon as you get well, but you mustn't actually DO it.  Apparently it's hard on the feelings of people who want to tell themselves they're going to write book.  They're enjoying collecting  posts of encouragement and admiration from others for the writing skills they're already displaying.  Actually writing a book makes them face the fact that they are NOT writing a book.

 

I had hoped the story of my eventual recovery would be helpful to others. It certainly wasn't helpful to me.  Okay, it's true, it WAS therapeutic to feel I would have my say and tell what it felt like to sit in each of these doctor's offices, but in writing out and going over and over in editing the most painful scenes of my ordeal, I really set myself up for PTSD. People who just forget may do better. But, I'm a writer; that's what I do.

 

Once my book was published, BB moderators scolded me if I mentioned it on the site.  Occasionally the moderator, Colin Moran, would talk about setting up a thread where books by members or former members could be listed.  Funny thing, that list finally went operative about two days after closed my account. I am not exaggerating.  I assumed my book would be on that list, but a fellow BB whom I'd befriended off the board told me no, it wasn't there.  When she suggested Accidental Addict be listed she was told they couldn't because I hadn't personally requested it.  Ha! How's that for a Catch-22? Because now that I was off the board, I had no way of contacting them anyway.

 

Well, nuts to them. In the end, I doubt people on the BB board are the absolute best audience for my book anyway.  So far, it's probably had more impact on people who start reading it just to check out a trainwreck story of somebody else's problems, only to find that drugs that gave me grief (Oxycodone and Xanax) are the very ones they themselves are currently taking.   

 

So, heads up! If you're taking Xanax occasionally to sleep, you may be compromising your brain.  You won't know how much until you try to go off.  Please, educate and save yourselves.

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PTSD in the McDonald's Drive-Thru

Yep, that's what I've got: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I'm as surprised as anybody because, like most people, I thought PTSD was strictly about war, or surviving some horrific physical assault.  Apparently not.  Nobody's ever in my life hit me, but the trauma of the isolation I endured for several years while in withdrawal from doctor prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines really did a number on my brain in sensitizing me to stress.  I have trouble with doctors, hospitals, anything medical, really, and of course all this tangles up with my personal relationships.

 

Six long years I've been clean of these drugs, and yet today I once again got blindsided. I'm driving through downtown Corvallis, doing fine.  I've just dropped my darling two-year old grandson with his mom after some time at the farm, and I'm happily planning a wildlife wallpaper banner for the room of his five-year-old brother.  On the radio, I tune in mid-interview  to an OPB story about a guy in his eighties extolling the health and anti-aging effects of playing softball.  He's even put his cancer into remission.  He uses the word joy a lot and I'm just loving this story, because it reaffirms what I've come to believe so strongly lately about the connection between our mental and physical health.

 

I turn into the McDonald's drive-thru for my guilty pleasure. The radio story's  wrapping up at the order window.  I've just paid and inched ahead at the second window when the interviewer says we've been hearing from Dr. Leon Speroff, retired Ob-Gyn at OHSU in Portland.

 

OMG—I know this softball-playing guy!  The infertility specialist my regular ob-gyn sent us to.  My husband and I sat across a desk from him one May day 34 years ago.  Wait.  Maybe it was even 34 years to the very day that we'd walked out of OHSU with a grocery sack full of Pergonal-filled syringes, because I always figured I'd gotten pregnant with the twins on May 25th. I love making connections like this.  One of those twins just had a baby of her own, thanks to the same OHSU fertility center…

And had the baby at OHSU…

.

Bam.  Horrible, with her hard, problematic labor, days of us hanging around waiting, scared…

 

Bam.  In the same hospital where we'd waited out so many surgeries my mother had after a car accident when I was only 26 myself and worried every day for months she was going to die…

.

Bam. And then my daughter's  scary emergency C-section and when I'm finally, belatedly informed that the baby's been born okay and I'm able to see my daughter, she looks like gray death….

 

Bam. Bam. Bam.  In split seconds  my  triggers zap across my synapses, and by the time I'm reaching for my Egg McMuffin—what the hell?—my  hand's shaking.  It happens so fast, I haven't yet figured out why my heart's pounding, how I've gone in a few quick memory flashes from happy and in control to panicky.  I could have insisted none of those old stories of medical peril upset me much anymore, but my brain begs to differ. Am I getting the message? Yep.

 

I drive over and sit in the parking lot at Home Depot, trying to breath deep, phoning my husband up in the woods for the calming value of his voice.  Actually I get better as soon as I go into the store and start ticking off my project supply list, so this is obviously not the toughest panic attack situation going on out there.

 

But after what I've been through, I now  understand like I never did before why all the survivors of school shootings and violence feel scarred for life. All survivors of any kind of trauma. How ridiculous it is to think they should feel grateful as long as they're not dead or visibly wounded.

 

This may seem like a change of subject , but it makes perfect sense to me: My Rx for the prevention and eradication of trauma in this country is the impeachment of Donald Trump. With this sorry excuse for a human being in charge, we have damage at every turn, especially to people who aren't white and male.  He blithely incites hatred and violence. He champions those who take pride in never apologizing for any of their actions, no matter how heinous. The traumatic separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border alone will keep social workers swamped for decades as they struggle to cope with the ongoing ramifications.

 

When Elizabeth Warren stepped up the other day and became the first 2020 Presidential contender to call for his impeachment, I felt an amazing surge of hope.  I think having her for President would improve the mental health of the entire nation.

  

Please join me in supporting her.  Let's start the healing.  Or at least stop the trauma.

 

 

 

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Bitter Pill Indeed

Maybe the word is finally getting out. It's about time.  The New Yorker's April 8th edition features an article called Bitter Pill: Why do we know so little about how to stop taking psychiatric drugs?  It follows the story of a young woman named Laura Delano, who began taking prescribed psychiatric drugs in her teens and suffered her doctors' layering on of more and different drugs (19 medications in 14 years) before she finally figured out for herself what her doctors weren't telling her, that to get well, she needed to go off  the drugs, not take more.

 

I'd heard of Laura because she would be mentioned on Benzobuddies.org, a site I used to visit, where people tried to help each other wean off of the class of psych drugs known as benzodiazepines—Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and others. She had gone public with her story on another site, Robert Whitaker's Mad in America. A Canadian benzo buddy of mine had met up with her for coffee, so,when I saw this in The New Yorker, I already knew her as a real person and I was just glad somebody was paying attention.

 

I have written before about Robert Whitaker's eye-opening book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, but it bears repeating. I bought copies for each of my kids with instructions to read cover to cover if they ever hit a point where a doctor suggested they or their family members be prescribed one of these drugs. 

 

Laura Delano says it was reading Anatomy of an Epidemic that changed her life, gave her the idea that just maybe, instead of taking more pills, she ought to be taking fewer.  It takes a long time to undo the damage these drugs can do to a person's brain, but healing is possible and she's recovering.

 

Sadly, there are many people like Laura, who have endured years of being polydrugged, and find little help or support from doctors when they try to get off.  I think my own story, detailed in Accidental Addict, and endorsed by Robert Whitaker, is probably even more common—middle-aged women who are unsuspectingly damaging their brains with doses of Xanax so small they think surely it couldn't be a problem.

 

Here's the bottom line as I see it: if you are taking prescribed antidepressants or benzos but are just  coping, not really doing well, maybe even coming up with weird new symptoms, please consider that your drug regimen might actually be your biggest problem. Please don't waste energy worrying if you must take on the label of "addict." The only question is, are you better off on these drugs or off of them? And don't rely on your doctor to have your back. His signature on the prescription pad will not save your brain.

 

Read Anatomy of an Epidemic. Check out the stories on Mad in America. Read my book.  See if any of this sounds like what you're going through and then, please, get busy saving yourself.  

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Children of the River's 30th Anniversary

March of 2019 marks thirty years since my first novel, Children of the River, appeared in print. The story for me really began  ten years earlier, however, in the fall of 1979. I was the wiped out young mother of a brand new baby boy, struggling to get the hang of nursing while watching the televised images of Cambodian families pouring into the refugee camps of Thailand.  A couple of years later, Southeast Asian refugees from  Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos began showing up at our small farm looking for work during harvest.  I was fascinated by their stories of escape, and began researching and writing my novel, the story of Sundara, a seventeen year old refugee girl  who falls in love with an American boy as she's  adjusting  to life in America.

 

I took me years to write the book and 16 rejections before it was accepted for publication.  When I received my first review—a  diamond from Kirkus—I was so excited and optimistic, I jumped in the car, drove to Eugene and invested in a lovely taspestry suitcase.  I was going places!  My husband bad-vibed me for days over this extravagance, but I never regretted it as I hauled that suitcase around the country, speaking in schools and at teacher's conferences.

 

The Cambodians we befriended at Wake Robin Farm and the writing of this book altered the course of my life.  I doubt I'd have the two most precious  half-Asian grandsons if I hadn't looked out from my office window nearly four decades ago  and seen my husband  trying to communicate with Koh Sam-ou, the Cambodian woman to whom I eventually dedicated the book.  But the story of how the baby I nursed that fall became the father of these grandsons is too long and twisty-turny for a blog post.  It took a whole book, my memoir, Wedding in Yangshuo: a Memoir of Love, Language, and the Journey of a Lifetime to the Heart of China.

 

It's a lucky thing for me I came up with Children of the River when I did.  The YA world is a nasty place these days, with what I think of as the flying monkeys of PC  looking for every opportunity to  viciously pounce on victims,  then sit around parsing the apologies.  Ugh.  In the current climate, I doubt I'd have been allowed, as a white woman, to write the story of a girl with skin a shade darker than my own.   But if white kids were going to have the slightest clue what these newly arrived Asians sitting next to them in class had gone through, the story would have to come from somebody ready to write their story in English.  At that point in time.

 

From my research, I knew there was great  enmity between the Vietnamese and the Cambodians, so as I worked on the book, my main concern was that Vietnamese would be able to relate.  No problem. To my surprise, I received letters from  refugees to the US from every other region of the world indicating they did too.  The challenges of assimilation and generational conflict seemed universal.  Not only did the book find a home in 8th grade classrooms, it was also taken up by teachers of English as a Second Language.

 

Despite the  general  PC  argument against cultural appropriation and at least one comment I saw directed specifically at my book in later years, that I had "perpetuated the myth of the model minority," I stand by everything I wrote.  My research was thorough, and nothing has happened in the Cambodian refugee community in the years since publication to make me cringe and feel I'd misstepped.  The  Southeast Asians we knew, the ones on whom I based my characters,  went on to lead highly successful lives.  My main character, Sundara Sovann, dreams of becoming a doctor. Just recently I learned that one of the Cambodian girls whose mother worked on our farm, had become an award-winning surgeon. 

 

Here's the deal: it's not a myth if the success is real!

 

I wrote Children of the River in the 80's, anchoring the main timeline in 1979.  By the time the book came out in 1989, it was already becoming a historical novel. Many of the plot points are firmly anchored in the era before the common use of home computers, the  internet and smart phones.  Nevertheless, basic human emotions remain the same, and I believe Children of the River stands the test of time.  Although I've published many books after this first, clearly Children of the River is the one which will remain attached to my name when  I'm  gone.  I'm glad I can still feel proud of it.

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Daughters of the Patriarchy

Every once in awhile I read the book everybody else is apparently reading, and in finally checking out Educated, by Tara Westover, I am clearly late to the party with comments.  With nearly four thousand Amazon reviews and 45 weeks on their  best seller list, the world has already agreed that her story of finally escaping from family dysfunction to join the wider world is gripping.  Like everyone else, I read it in short order  and last night went down the rabbit hole of reading all the  one star reviews—apparently written  by her family and their supporters—and the dozens of comments on these reviews from people who refused to let these pseudo reviews stand.

 

This searing memoir is not so much about religion as it is about patriarchal family dynamics, and it made me think about something that's been bothering me ever since Donald Trump got elected, namely, who are these women who voted for him?  Who thought it was fine for their daughters and granddaughters to have for President a guy who brags about grabbing women's sexual organs?  Who are these women who somehow still support him, the ones who went on TV during the Kavanaugh hearings and said how scared they were for their sons, because, goodness, look how easy it would be for some trashy girl to take them down with a false claim of rape?

 

What?! I have two grown sons and I would never for one minute worry about that!  Number one, they would never do that.  Number two, when women gather the courage to speak up about abuse, I believe them.  My default reaction at such an accusation would be to grab my son and demand to know what was up.

 

But this is how the patriarchy works.  It's almost always men who commit these acts of abuse.  When women are involved, it's usually because some man is bossing them into it.  And then—this is the worst part—when some woman tries to report the abuse, there are always women ready to stick up for the man, turn against the woman, effectively telling  her to sit down and shut up. Don't make waves.  Don't embarrass people.  It's not enough to have the Boys' Club firmly in place, the women must help support it.

 

That's how it worked for Tara Westover.  In spilling the beans about her father's obvious mental illness and her brother's horrific abuse, she broke the big rule: Don't Make the Family Look Bad.  While her mother and her sister (also victims) had at least briefly seemed to side with her, in the end  they did not have the nerve to stand up to the Patriarchy.  It was easier to just say, "I'm with them," and put all emotional energy into justifying casting out a sister. The appearance of the FAMILY to the outside world and the support of its male members took precendence over the daughters.

 

But Tara Westover's bravery in speaking truth to power is exactly what we need  to heal  our nation and the earth itself.  We do not need women like Senator Susan Collins, who entertained abuse survivors in her office for days on end and pretended to listen to their stories, let them pray en masse out in her hall, then got her hair done, put on a spiffy suit, and stood on the Senate floor  for forty-five minutes explaining why she was delivering her vote to Kavanaugh  for the Supreme Court.  Ugh.  Ugh ugh ugh. I hate to think of the further trauma this horrific betrayal delivered to all those women who pleadingly told her their stories.

 

I am cheered by the new female members of the House of Representatives.  They make me hopeful for the future.  We need brave women not afraid to speak  up.

 

Count me as an early supporter of Elizabeth Warren.  I have been wearing my "Nevertheless, she persisted" T-shirt to the gym ever since she thrilled us by refusing to sit down and shut up.  I have no patience for this "But is she electable?" business.  All it takes for her to be electable is for us to vote for her.  I believe she will kick butt and clean house, so please join me in supporting her.  

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