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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

ACCIDENTAL ADDICT: a True Story of Pain and Healing....also Marriage, Real Estate, and Cowboy Dancing

I’m excited. I love crossing things off a To-Do list, and for almost four years now the only thing on it has been GET WELL. Now I’m crossing that off . FINALLY. I am so glad to be looking forward to a life that’s about more than struggling to recover from the nasty job opioid painkillers and the benzodiazepine Xanax did to my brain in conjunction with my total knee replacement surgery.

Maybe only someone who’s been through withdrawal from prescription drugs can fully understand what I mean by this, but that’s okay. I’m hoping my new book, ACCIDENTAL ADDICT, will help people understand what this long drawn out healing process entails. It's surely baffling to the loved ones of those in our situation.

More importantly, I hope people will read about my pharmaceutically-induced trainwreck and get the warning I never had. I like to picture somebody sitting in their doctor’s office being offered Xanax and going, “Are you kidding? You think I want to wind up like that woman in ACCIDENTAL ADDICT?”

ACCIDENTAL ADDICT: a True Story of Pain and Healing….also Marriage, Real Estate, and Cowboy Dancing. It’s gone to press—or however that should be put in the digital age—which is another huge item off my To-Do list!
To view a two-and-a-half minute YouTube book trailer,click here.

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The Death of Prince

When I heard Prince had been found dead, I right away thought: drugs. No, not necessarily a heroin overdose, but when people in ever greater numbers are dying too young–found dead—and there’s been no talk of going downhill from cancer, no car accident, well, the involvement of prescription drugs is certainly what springs immediately to my mind.

True, Prince’s autopsy report hasn’t yet been made public, but it wasn’t long before Percocet was mentioned, and today we get the story that Prince died just one day before a famous addiction specialist was scheduled to fly to his aid. This is revealed as a tragedy of timing, as if he missed being saved by just one day.

But it’s not that simple. When it comes to getting off narcotic painkillers, money’s little help. As I suffered through withdrawal coming off of Oxycodone after my knee replacement surgery, I’m sure a sympathetic doctor holding my hand and encouraging me would have been better than the help I got—which was basically nothing—but in the end, it’s all down to the addicted patient. The most famous, high-priced doctor around pointing out you have to stop taking the drugs will not spare you the horrors. Doctors don’t have a whole lot of tricks in their bags for helping people deal with this addiction—never mind that in so many cases the addiction began at the prescription pad of some fellow physician.

What they don’t talk about in most addiction stories is just how long a person has to feel perfectly horrid long after they’ve stopped “using.” Is this because so few people ever actually get off this stuff and have the story to tell? Even in tales of recovery, it seems to me the physical difficulties are downplayed. I wonder if it’s possible that addicts feel they’ll sound whiny if they talk about this. Maybe they think others wouldn’t be sympathetic because they are, after all, addicts?

Maybe that’s the way I felt before I went through this myself—as judgmental as the next person. Now I have nothing but the sincerest admiration for anybody who can get themselves off these brain-damaging drugs and stay off. Since I have nothing to feel guilty about, I have no problem speaking up and pointing out that withdrawal is truly hell, and our medical system better get its act together in a hurry to deal with restrictive new prescription protocols for opioids, and all the people who are soon going to be ushered off of their painkillers and into this horrid illness.

I’m hoping my upcoming memoir—Accidental Addict--will help shed light on all this. I’ve been receiving some wonderful pre-publication endorsements, including this one from Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing: "I hope this timely book gets widely read. Linda Crew’s experience has been shared by millions of Americans and many have lost their lives. The medical community has accidentally created an epidemic of addiction by overprescribing narcotics, and now everyone, including prescribers, needs to know how easily these drugs can destroy lives."

So sad about the loss of the talented and popular Prince, but for every famous person who dies this way, there are thousands who die without headlines, becoming only another statistic in the CDC’s alarming new reports of the rising rates of overdose deaths from prescription drugs.  Read More 
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Fond Memories

A year ago today it was like spring, and I decided to try acting like a well person. I took up my loppers and headed out to work in my trees. About a half hour later I tripped, fell, and broke my ankle. It’s amazing to me how long it’s been since I’ve given that fully healed ankle a second thought. If only brains healed so quickly and efficiently. But that’s a long story, a book, in fact (coming soon), and not what I want to write about here.

It’s just that this anniversary reminded me of some unfinished business derailed by my accident. The previous day last year I received, out of the blue, an email from Thy Chan, known now as Tony Te, with a picture of himself as a child at Wake Robin Farm. Through the magic of Facebook, the internet, and a helpful sister, he’d found my site. I loved this—him writing that he had such happy memories of playing at the farm while his parents helped during harvest. This was during the time when the stories of families like his were inspiring me to write CHILDREN OF THE RIVER.

Now he works for a wedding photography company in Southern California. He's also an events coordinator, in charge of the Cambodian New Years Parade in Long Beach, the biggest new year's celebration in Southern California.

Thank you, little Thy, all grown up into Tony Te, for coming back for a cyber visit!

I also recently heard from some middle school students in Nebraska who were reading Children of the River and wanted to know how things had turned out for my Cambodian character Sundara. Of course Sundara is fictional, so the best I can do is to report the "happy endings" of the good lives being lived here in the US by the Cambodian refugees we met back then. I'm glad to say that every follow-up story I've heard is a good one, and reinforces the idea that refugees from other countries have helped make America strong. As my husband likes to say, "Bring 'em on!"  Read More 
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Young Critic Raves Over Old Book!

My husband Herb’s grandmother was first cousins with Marie Hall Ets, winner of the Caldecott Medal for children’s picture books, and Herb remembers as a child being taken to visit her New York City apartment, where he was impressed by the pet mice she kept in cages as models for her charcoal drawings.

Over the years he has searched out copies of her various books from antiquarian book sites, but recently, as it became time to introduce the star pupil of the Wake Robin Farm Daycare and Academy for Exceptional Grandchildren to her works, he realized he was missing his own childhood favorite, In the Forest.

When the precious copy arrived from a couple of nice-sounding ladies in upstate New York doing business as Book Rescue LLC and also Happy Dog Farm, Inc., (surely a story in itself) we couldn’t wait to see what our resident 23-month-old critic would have to say about it.

Five stars!

“Read again! Again! Start over.” One particular page fascinates him. “Go to the gooder page.” Something about the boy in the story trying to ascertain if one of the animals—a stork—was “real” seems to intrigue him. Maybe it’s all the discussion around here about the difference between the logo deer on the John Deere tractor and the “real deer” that come up out of the forest to graze in the yard. As we read it over and over and discussed everything, he finally looked at us solemnly and said, “We talking all about this.”

I love that Marie Hall Ets wrote and illustrated this book seventy-five years ago and today, despite the musty smell of the pages, her story is as alive and fresh as the day she finished her charcoal drawings and decided she had the words down just right. Wish she could see how beautifully and mysteriously her work still speaks to this child.

You have to hand it to the people who write, illustrate, edit and publish children’s books when they manage to nail it like this. The Caldecott Medal means nothing to this little guy, but he knows what he likes, and the people on the committee that year--all long gone, I'm sure--knew exactly knew what they were doing.














































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The Making of a Bi-lingual Child

WARNING! THIS POST CONTAINS BLATANT GRANDPARENTAL BRAGGING!

It turns out that raising a bi-lingual child in America is not as easy as I used to think. It’s not enough to have one parent speaking something other than English. That parent must carefully speak only the second language to the child on a continual basis to counteract all the English he will hear in his daily life.

In our case, the second language is Mandarin, and it’s our daughter-in-law, Ziwei, who has taken on the task of making sure our little grandson will have the benefits of both languages. This is not easy when he is in our English-speaking care each morning and she works full-time as a pre-school teacher.

Although we had believed Nolan was smart from early on—he sat in my lap and turned the pages of Home for Bunny at the age of five months—he wasn’t breaking any records for earliest first words. We read this was sometimes the case when a child is programming two languages into his brain at the same time.

Recently his language development has been exponential, however, with continual new words and combinations. He likes the word “compromise” and reconfirms daily that “raccoons nocturnal.” But his dad reports that he may actually be speaking Mandarin more correctly than English because of the simplicity of the Chinese language, at least so far as the grammar goes. Ziwei was putting on his walrus socks when he said in Mandarin, “Haven’t wear walrus long time,” which she reports is perfectly correct.

A couple of days ago this cutie was standing at his usual spot at our house— on a stool by the kitchen sink where he likes to wash and eat whatever garden produce his Ye-ye (grampa) has brought in. My husband said to me, “Will you keep an eye on him for a minute?”

“Well, of course,” I said, with the exaggerated enthusiasm you give a 21-month-old, not that it was the least bit insincere. “There’s nothing in the world I’d rather do this minute than watch this little guy eat your strawberries!”

Nolan turned from the sink, gave me a shy little half smile with his berry-stained cheeks and said softly, “Wo ai ni.”

OMG and be still my heart. Because I only know two phrases in Chinese. One is wo bu ming bai—I don’t understand—and the other is wo ai ni.

I love you.

Thank you, Ziwei!  Read More 
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Jennifer Anniston's movie "Cake"

I was intrigued when I heard Jennifer Anniston was making a movie—"Cake"—starring herself as a woman addicted to narcotic painkillers. Since I never watched "Friends" when it first aired, I had been finding Jen and the rest of the cast great company in the middle of the night as I suffered through withdrawal from Oxycodone myself, and I couldn’t wait to see how she would handle this drastically different role that currently hit so close to home for me.

The movie was supposed to come out in January, but week after week it failed to appear in our theatres. Or theatres anywhere. Finally it turned out it had gone straight to video. I watched it May, as soon as I could get it from Netflix.

Was it simply because I could so identify with the character’s misery that this film resonated with me? Did other people see only an unlikeable, bitchy woman for whom they could muster no empathy? By the revelatory ending, Jennifer Anniston had broken my heart.

I felt especially bummed for her as an actress, to somehow have her big shot at an Oscar be summarily dismissed this way. Seriously, I thought she was great. She had me in tears. It’s as if because she is basically so damned cute and has such spot-on comic timing, nobody wants to watch her step up to be front and center in a dramatic, decidedly non-cute role.

People often seem to think the rich and famous are too rich and famous to care about this sort of thing, but I’ll bet she felt really bad. Just wanted to point out that one person out here appreciated her efforts.  Read More 
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Cheryl Strayed's WILD

Cheryl Strayed is speaking in our town tonight, and people keep asking me if I’m going. I’m not, but only because I satisfied my curiosity about the real woman behind this book I so admired when I ran down and heard her at the Corvallis Public Library right after it came out. WILD was a big deal from the start. Now, with the opening of Reese Witherspoon’s movie version, it has become a media juggernaut.

Some people—other writers—resent Strayed’s success. Not me. Sure, I had a little trouble rooting for her in those first chapters. Why did she walk out on a perfectly good husband? Was she going to explain that? But before long I couldn’t help empathizing with her simply as a fellow human being, however flawed.

Here’s the thing that drew me into Cheryl Strayed’s journey of self-discovery: her kindness to others. A powerful book is not about being able to string nice sentences together. Plenty of people can manage that trick, but without heart, where’s the story? Cheryl Strayed has heart. She gives every individual she meets along the trail a break. For contrast, read Augusten Burrough’s memoir, DRY, where he actively sneers at each every single person he encounters in his life unless he is sexually attracted to them.

Yes, Cheryl Strayed hurt some people along the way. She shot heroin. She wasn’t too careful in choosing sexual partners. “Not a very good role model,” somebody actually confided to me. (!) So what? We’re sitting around this big campfire to share our stories, not set ourselves up as role models. How can you not empathize with someone so honest, a person harder on herself than on anyone else? I think this capacity in Strayed goes beyond her memoir. In her collected DEAR SUGAR columns she also shows a compassion for others, as well as a lot of hard-won wisdom.

True kindness and compassion for others is in short supply in this world. It should be valued. It should be spread around. Cheryl Strayed clearly does not need an endorsement from me at this point. Nevertheless, here it is: You go, girl! Read More 
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The Barbarism of Football

My heart breaks for the mother of 22-year-old football player Kosta Karageorge, who received from her son a final text message apologizing for being such an embarrassment, explaining that all the concussions he’d sustained had messed up his brain.

Of course everyone claims to be shocked by his suicide. As somebody suffering from temporary brain damage due to drug withdrawal, I wasn’t. Brain damage, whether sustained by a war injury, drugs, or a collision occurring during a game played for entertainment, has a weird way of making people want to kill themselves. Sadly, Karageorge is not a tragic anomaly. There are far too many sad stories, some of them suicides, of retired NFL players whose lives were destroyed because of the brain damage they were paid the big bucks to risk. Susan Karageorge’s loss of her son is truly tragic, but it did not come out of the blue. It was not a random fluke of the universe.

I’ve always thought football was barbaric. Having ruined my own knee by kneeling on a sewing needle at the age of fifteen, I could never fathom why anyone would deliberately risk these joints so important to simply walking around. What it did to people’s brains was even worse. I dutifully put together football-uniform Halloween costumes for both of my sons, but I never made any bones over being delighted they neither of them had the brawn to be recruited. I was pleased to have my children be all about their brain power.

Thirty years ago I wrote a passage for my first novel, CHILDREN OF THE RIVER, where the main character, a Cambodian refugee named Sundara, visits her American boyfriend in the hospital after he’s been injured and carried off the high school football field on a stretcher.

“You have a lot of pain?”
“Only when I move. It’s like this horrendous headache.”
“Then it’s true, what Ravy tells me? You hurt your head?”
“Yeah, just a slight concussion, it turns out.”
“But this is very bad,” she said softly, “to be hurt in your head. Jonatan, your head is the place of your soul, your life force. You must take care.”

Here’s the thing about brain damage, whether temporary or permanent: You can stand there looking just fine, but if your brain isn’t working right, you’ve lost it all.

Maybe it’s true what some say, that football is going to be the next tobacco. It should be. How about we smarten up, face the painful facts about football, and shift our culture toward something less barbaric? Read More 
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Fashionable Reforestation

I never asked for InStyle Magazine. I’m not sure why somebody started sending it to me. But, okay, lying on the sofa, still trying to recover, I confess I flipped through it. The bizarre fashion shots always amuse me, but this one crossed the line into what I consider my own territory, a shampoo company magnate talking about reforestation.

“Years ago, while visiting Oregon’s Elk River, I learned that most of the forest was going to be clear cut…and I immediately jumped in to help save it.”

Wow, Paul, thanks for coming to Oregon and setting us straight! My husband joined me in cracking up over this photo shoot.

Here’s how a couple of actual Oregon tree farmers looked on some recent tree planting expeditions. Read More 
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Lives on Paper

Lives on Paper

I’ve been sifting through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
It’s one that happened long time ago.... Kate Wolf—Across the Great Divide

My mother is moving out of the house she’s been in for fifty years, taking up residence in the elegant new apartment building being built down on the Willamette riverfront. This has meant for me that my livingroom is currently stacked with all the family memorabilia she will no longer have room to store.

Vintage scrapbooks, studio portraits of babies given to grandparents, returned when the older generations passed on. And the stacks of notebooks of my grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Schumacher, dry chronicles of the many trips he and my grandmother took—Japan, Tahiti, Glacier Park, New York City, Alaska. “Took a shower. Took a nap. Dandy dinner at the hotel restaurant.” How he would have loved the current culture of posting reviews on every little thing. In an account of a four day swing around Oregon he notes: “Arrived Medford at 6 PM after stopping at two state rest areas. They were excellent.” The entire trip ran them exactly $97.25.

Let me say up front that my grandfather, departed over fifteen years ago at the age of ninety-nine, was a fine, upstanding man. But a writer he was not. So may I claim these accounts have already served their purpose? Each manila envelope bears the date he re-read the accounts for himself. Of a 1966 trip to San Diego: “Read and checked all material & enjoyed remembering the notes kept regarding expenses and times of arrival and departure. Schu 2/23/85.”

My brother, also a writer, once valiantly tried to interview our grandfather in hopes of getting his stories on tape. No dice. The man seemed to be all about records. Addresses. Prices. Budgets. To-Do lists. Bob and I inherited no creativity from this side of the family, but we are big on To-Do lists.

As a child, I remember being scolded for eating Grampa Schu’s raspberries right off the vine. No eating before counting! The yield must be recorded in his notebook! To this day I take pleasure in standing before my husband’s raspberry vines, conscious of my freedom to gorge without counting.

But surely Grampa never intended us to treasure these notebooks forever.

Right? As a dutiful daughter and granddaughter I’m not necessarily required to operate as a storage unit in perpetuity? These are, after all, the notes of the man whose comment on the publication of my first novel, CHILDEN OF THE RIVER, was this: “What’s the big deal? All you had to do was write down what happened to those Cambodian friends of yours.”

Um, not really. But apparently that was HIS approach to writing. One detail after another as it happened. Yes, I’ve encountered books like that. I consider them raw material for my novels, not a literary experience in themselves.

Still, I find it agonizing to throw away the written word. This isn’t so much the writer in me, I think, as it is the researcher. I can’t forget the thrill of uncovering something someone had written decades ago that shed light on the lives of real people I was writing about in A HEART FOR ANY FATE and BRIDES OF EDEN.

Now, in the middle of this great sort-out project, to make room for what I’m charged with keeping, I have to pare down my own memorabilia. And why not? If I can’t even remember who it is in this fuzzy Polaroid, why make my own daughter agonize over it someday? Of course, dealing with the ones I save, I’ll probably drag it all out, won’t be able to resist explaining, will be compelled to jot down the context, like the one of seventeen-year-old me, heading off to a girls-ask-boys dance in a pretty blue lace dress. My date’s nose is red. I thought I’d learned the rest of the story when one of the cool crowd guys at school kindly informed me he’d had to get drunk to be my escort. Only recently I learned the real rest of the story, which is that he was actually gay. He’d flown a helicopter in Vietnam and come out only later. Poor guy. He had so much going on back in high school. An article in the Oregonian quoted him as saying he’d been terrified from the age of five that the police were going to come after him for liking other boys. So that red nose of his probably had very little to do with me. . .

These are the sort of detours that can weary the most diligent of memorabilia sorters!
That this is an emotionally exhausting endeavor is known full well by all the other daughters out there going through this same thing and yes, I do feel it most often falls to the daughters—unless a bunch of brothers such as husband’s clan find themselves unluckily without a sister.

If I could only get this job done and try to think more about the future. . . Well, at least thanks to my Schumacher genes, I have this on a To-Do list. It will be so satisfying to cross it off! Read More 
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