Tag Archives: books

what I’ve been into

TV that I’m into: “Playing House” on USA with Jessica St. Claire and Lennon Parham. I’ve been binge-watching this show, and I LOVE it. It’s exactly my sense of humor. It also has the added bonus of having Keegan-Michael Key in it.

TV that I’m looking forward to: “I’m Sorry” with Andrea Savage on TruTV

Books I’ve been reading: I’ve been reading A LOT lately, which is good. Just finished a historical novel called The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. It’s based on a real incident, and pulls a lot from history including the Spiritualism craze, Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. I just started my second Erik Larson book, In The Garden of Beasts. It’s about the American consulate in Germany during WWII and his family.

Work stuff: Just finished a book on Ethereum, which is Bitcoin’s competition. It’s unique in that you can create applications on its blockchain, it’s not just for currency. If that makes no sense to you, look it up, I’m not going to summarize the book again. I usually just get blank stares. Still working on the book for my Gildshire articles, too, just finished up editing and writing the intros.

What I’ve cooked/baked lately: Made no-bake brownies with black beans and dates. It’s more like fudge than brownies, but it’s delicious. Getting out a slice is kind of like digging for fossils, because they have to be frozen, but it’s worth it. I also made homemade tomato sauce the other day. It was a bit runny, but I can thicken it up by just reducing it some more. I didn’t make this, but we tried Ben and Jerry’s “One Love” ice cream flavor, which is banana ice cream, graham cracker, caramel, and chocolate peace signs. Chris says it might be his new favorite.

Fitness stuff: Still using the good ol’ mini trampoline and rowing machine most nights. I take just one day off a week. Also got myself a resistance band, which is very convenient. Looking forward to having the toned arms of my dreams. It’s been gross and hot lately, so haven’t been exercising outdoors as much as I (or Yoshi) would like, but what can ya do. I know weight isn’t the goal here, but I am happy that I’ve successfully went down to about 155 after plateauing at 160 for so long. Paying attention to macros and sugar has made the difference. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating just 1200 calories if way too many of them are coming from sugar.

Novel stuff: Still steadily working on my Harley Gray novel. I filled out one notebook, so I’m on to a new one. That feels like an accomplishment. Been focusing a lot on trying to actually picture my characters moving around in the world I’ve created, so I can convey that to the reader. That means writing a lot of stuff that won’t actually end up in the book. I’m still figuring out how to get that in the story without actually putting it in the story (like a character’s whole marriage, basically), but I enjoy the challenge.

So that’s pretty much it, that’s what I’ve been doing. Small group meets again soon. Chris’ parents will be visiting, which means beach day!

 

 

What I’m Reading Now: The Buddha in the Attic

The leaves of the trees continued to turn in the wind. The rivers continued to flow. Insects hummed in the grass as always. Crows cawed. The sky did not fall. No President changed his mind. Mitsuko’s favorite black hen clucked once and laid a warm brown egg. A green plum fell early from a tree. Our dogs ran after with balls in their mouths, eager for one last toss, and for once, we had to turn them away. Go home. Neighbors peered out at us through the windows. Cars honked. Strangers stared. A boy on a bicycle waved. A startled cat dove under a bed in one of our houses as looters began to break down the front door. Curtains ripped. Glass shattered. Wedding dishes smashed to the floor. And we knew it would only be a matter of time until all traces of us were gone.

Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic is short. It’s 129 pages. I read it in one sitting, on the couch, in the evening. It has a very unusual structure that some people really hated or found distracting, but I loved it. It’s first-person plural. We. It’s so important to the voice of the book, because it is a book about the shared experience of being a “picture bride,” a Japanese woman sent to America to start a new life with a husband she’s only seen in a picture. That being said, the experiences are very different, and the book accounts for that with contradictory statements, one after another. It’s almost like a list, but a lyrical one. In just a few sentences, Otsuka is able to paint an incredibly vivid picture of dozens of different perspectives. Sometimes the woman comes to America and finds out the man in the picture isn’t even her husband. Sometimes it is, but the picture was taken two decades before. The husbands are gentle, violent, awkward, loving, cruel. The women have to take jobs as maids to white women who don’t like Hispanic, black, or Chinese maids. Sometimes they become prostitutes. Sometimes they are farmers.

The book is divided into 8 sections, with titles like, “Babies,” and “The Children.” It explores how when the first American-born children get older, they reject their Japanese heritage, forget the language, and change their names. Then comes the chapter, “Traitors.” I knew it was coming. How could it not? But I wasn’t prepared.

Men start to disappear only days after Pearl Harbor. There are rumors of a list of names, but no one knows how it works. Wealthy Japanese men are taken alongside dirt-poor field hands. Wives start to pack bags and leave them by the door so when a husband is taken, he has a change of clothes. Chinese people get beaten up because people think they’re Japanese. Japanese families start to burn everything that would identify them as Japanese, but they can’t burn their faces. And none of it matters in the end. They are ordered to leave.

“Extraordinary circumstances,” is what the government says.

And I look around, I listen to the rhetoric going on now about Muslims, and it’s all too familiar. It’s happening again. It hasn’t even been that long, and we’re already surrendering to fear. Don’t watch silently.

To The Brokenhearted: Being a Christian with Depression

My first Kindle ebook is now available for purchase on Amazon. It costs $4.99 and is enabled for lending on the Kindle. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get it on your computer or smartphone using the Amazon Kindle app. Here are some instructions:

http://jeanienefrost.com/discount-ebooks/how-to-read-an-ebook-without-an-e-reader/

I hope some of you check it out!

http://www.amazon.com/Brokenhearted-Being-Christian-Depression-ebook/dp/B013HPUO00/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1440533993&sr=8-1&keywords=to+the+broken+hearted+being+a+christian&pebp=1440533995385&perid=1CJ7SKS136KKVP032WFT

What I’m Reading: “Blessed Are The Crazy” by Sarah Griffith Lund

I knew I was going to love “Blessed Are the Crazy” when a random sponsored ad took me to Sarah Griffith Lund’s author page on Facebook. It had all the elements of books I am drawn to, and most vitally, it tells a story that it takes guts to talk about. Ms. Lund’s story begins when she was a child and her mentally-ill father wrecked havoc on his family, even when he and Sarah’s mother separated and he drifted in and out of her life. She goes through the years of confusion and fear about why her father was the way he was, realization of his illness, and gradually, slowly, learning from him. She also writes about her brother who seemed to “inherit” his father’s illness, which eventually cost him his wife, career, and emotional stability. One of the most profound parts of the book is when Ms. Lund acknowledges how brave her brother is by choosing to stay alive when all he wanted to do was die. This is something so many people fail to realize when it comes to severe mental illness, when just breathing is an act of heroism, the ultimate self-sacrifice. Also included in this little, extremely powerful book is the story of Ms. Lund’s cousin who was executed at age 30 and the evolution of her own spirituality.

As a person of faith, Ms. Lund works through so many thoughts and questions I have had other the years about God and mental illness. One thing I really loved was her thoughts on how everyone has a cross to bear, and for so many, that cross is mental illness. It makes songs like “Oh, the Wonderful Cross” fall flat and those little pretty silver cross necklaces trite. Ms. Lund writes, “…You can buy porcelain or jeweled crosses with Bible quotes….but what about a cross that looks crazy, that looks ugly? Not as reflective of a crazy or ugly God, but one that represents the craziness and ugliness of our burdens that we bear?” It made me think about what the original cross represented and looked like. It was where criminals hung to die. Jesus’ cross was painted red with his gore, his skin nailed against the wood with spikes. When he was forced to carry up the hill, he fell, and a man named Simon of Cyrene had to help him. Jesus needed someone to carry his cross with him. Imagine how much more do we need others to help us.

My family has been there to carry my cross of mental illness, and it has not left them without scars. Reading what I write about mental illness and my history with it is often extremely difficult for them. I wouldn’t be alive without them.

Childhood Fears

The first real fear I remember experiencing was a fear of witches. Given the fact that I was not born during the late 1600’s or even on the West Coast of the US, this probably seems odd. While I may not have been born during the Salem witch trials, I was a young person in an Evangelical world when the Harry Potter phenomena erupted into popular culture like a firestream from hell. While many Christian kids got to read the books and enjoy the subsequent movies unquestioned, there was a small but aggressive Evangelical sect of Christianity that viewed Harry Potter with deep suspicion. It was probably the only thing they had in common with the Catholics. I don’t know its origins or even why my parents – normally so reasonable in all things – fell prey to it. Someone my parents knew must have brought up Harry Potter as a source of nefariousness, because before I even really knew what it was, my brother and I were not allowed to read the books or see the films. When we made friends who wondered why, my brother and I were given a video entitled “Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged” that would answer all our questions. The goal of the film was to show how Harry Potter was responsible for a renewed interest in paganism, the occult, and Satanism. It was “repackaging” a dangerous, soul-damning practice into a nice story about a messy-haired wizard boy with glasses. The video consisted of:

  1. Ominous music playing over black-and-white photos of J.K. Rowling, including one in which she appeared like a floating head with no body
  2. Multiple scenes from the 1996 movie, “The Craft,” one which featured a young girl getting struck by lightning and possessed
  3. Shaky footage from “Wiccan spring fertility” ceremonies, with more ominous music added
  4. A “real-life” witch pretending to fly around a cauldron on a broomstick during Halloween
  5. Screenshots from Harry Potter chat rooms where tweens asked how they could study witchcraft and cast spells to make their crushes like them

After watching this video, I was on constant alert. I would hear stories about other Evangelicals who met real-life witches and the weird things that would happen, like children having constant nightmares after walking past a witch’s house, and my fear persisted. I was simultaneously drawn to and horrified by the “Alternative Beliefs” section in Barnes and Noble, where they stocked tomes such as “Wicca and Witchcraft for Dummies” and “Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living.” If I lingered too long, I would worryt hat I had “picked something up,” which is a real term for when a demonic spirit latches onto an unsuspecting host and messes with their lives. The solution was to use the Bible or other prayers to send it away, almost in a spell-like fashion.

Women were especially vulnerable to the effects and allure of witchcraft, probably because Eve was the one who Satan went after and successfully tempted into eating the forbidden fruit. In terms of “sin origins,” which means the real root of any sin a person can commit (i.e. if you only think about yourself and are inconsiderate of others, you are guilty of pride), witchcraft is considered the sin of control. If you like to control everything in your life, you are vulnerable to witchcraft. This was very troubling to a 12-year old perfectionist who hated spontaneity. Would I accidentally become a witch? I was tempted to google “spells,” just to see, but if I did that, I could be kidnapped by a coven who had my IP address and then there would be no going back. I often lay awake at night in a cold sweat, terrified I would die and go to hell. I mistook panic attacks for demonic possession. Witchcraft was everywhere, and I couldn’t escape it.

Once the correct diagnosis of anxiety cleared up most of my concerns about my own soul and I spent less time lying awake contemplating damnation, my fear of witchcraft faded. Besides seeing occasional bumper stickers that read “Get a taste of religion, lick a witch,” I have never actually met anyone who professed to be a witch. I also started to learn more about “alternative beliefs” from sources other than Evangelical video companies and realized that Wicca and Satanism are not – in fact – one and the same. Even if I did meet a witch, they would not immediately attach a demon to my back. A Satanist wouldn’t even do that. That’s just a dick move. If I ever do something that would warrant that kind of action, I probably deserve it. Some things haven’t changed though. I still refuse to see “The Craft.”

Finger on the Trigger

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I recently read one of many articles addressing the issue of trigger warnings in academia. A group of students at a university brought it up and the media was quick to jump on it. A “trigger” is described as an extremely negative response – such as PTSD flashbacks or urges to self harm – to pictures, text, video, and/or audio. Warnings serve to alert a person that what they are about to encounter might have content that could trigger them.

The comments on the article were astoundingly ignorant and insensitive. One person objected to using trigger warnings, justifying their stance by saying, “Life is a trigger.” Others expressed contempt for those who need trigger warnings, describing them as weak or overly-sensitive or having a victim complex. One commenter said people who wanted trigger warnings were incapable of using the Internet (and informing themselves about the content of a textbook), had not heard about cognitive behavioral therapy, and were just bored. A common thread I noticed was that people believed trigger warnings were in place before content that was “offensive.” That’s not what a trigger warning is about. Being offended is not the same as being triggered. At all.

I have been triggered. I immediately began having a panic attack and had to leave where I was and curled up into the back of a car, unable to stop shaking and crying. That episode subsided, but the next day, when I was back at my dorm, I locked myself in my room for two days. I was unable to do anything besides lie on the floor and fight the flashbacks. People had to bring me food. Being triggered disrupted my entire life, at at the end of the school year, had a negative effect on my final exams.

It’s bizarre that people believe that those who want trigger warnings are sensitive or even naive. More than once I’ve heard people say that life is hard, suck it up, you can’t be protected forever. It’s not like these students are unaware of life’s suffering. They have literally already been through trauma, including rape, abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. They are the opposite of naive. They would just like a head’s up so they don’t have to relive these painful memories without warning. A professor at a college in New York says that most decent professors essentially already warn students, in his syllabus, he includes a brief note that makes it clear that some of the material in the class may be difficult for certain students, so if they need to excuse themselves, they are free to do so. They are responsible for the material missed. In a film class on violence I took my third year, we watched some intense clips. My professor always told us that what we were about to watch might be too much. For one film in particular, she emphasized just how brutal and disturbing it was, so I simply did not attend the screening at all. For the essay we were assigned on that film, I simply read a brief summary online and went from there. Students are masters of this, which is often called “bull-shitting.” It’s why cliff notes exist.

A criticism of having trigger warnings in academia is just how far this will go. People love the slippery slope argument, and in the article’s comment section, people were spinning wild presumptions about the kinds of content that would be labeled. “If a book has a troubled relationship between a father and son, will that be labeled too?” If that relationship includes sexual or other physical abuse, then yes. There are well-known triggers that encompass a wide range of content (sexual abuse, self-harm, eating disorders, emotional abuse), so that’s a good place to start, and it isn’t asking too much. Movies have MPAA ratings that specifically outline why it has that rating; this is not a new concept. It’s strange that people are so opposed to implementing warnings, it’s incredibly easy, something that any decent professor is already familiar with, and saves students from being surprised and sent into a full-blown anxiety attack or from self-harm.

I use trigger warnings. At least two of my posts have included a warning at the top. I do this because I care about those who have been through trauma, and because I don’t want anyone’s experience of my writing to be overwhelmed by negative memories. Any distraction from a core message (in movies, books, etc) is problematic, and a distraction that disturbs and triggers someone can completely override any positive effect the movie/book might have had. Sure, you could tell that person to just get over it and enjoy everything else, but you would be revealing your ignorance. This person would love to “get over it,” but it isn’t that easy and they weren’t necessarily prepared to be dealing with their trauma in this way at this time. A classroom isn’t really the ideal place to be hashing out your past.

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Sources:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/inside_higher_ed/2014/05/hostos_community_college_professor_angus_johnston_explains_why_trigger_warnings.html

http://www.my-borderline-personality-disorder.com/2012/11/what-does-TW-mean-on-twitter.html

 

8 Famous Authors with Depression

ImageFrom everydayhealth.com

Mark Twain

“Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”

This eccentric author (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn) also suffered from a form of narcolepsy later in life, and would often fall asleep while in the middle of speaking.

Stephen King

“Monsters are real. Ghosts, too. They live inside us and sometimes, they win.”

Prolific horror writer King has written about his lifelong struggles with depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

“In a real dark night of the soul, it always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”

Fitzgerald led a party-hard lifestyle for most of his life, which ended at the young age of 44. He was also an alcoholic and had a complex relationship with his wife Zelda, who he ultimately separated from.

Sylvia Plath

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

This poet is just as famous for her depression as she is for her writing. At 19, she made her first suicide attempt, and at age 30, she succeeded in taking her own life. Her only novel The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical story of a young woman who goes through electric shock therapy for her depression.

Tennessee Williams

“I’ve had a wonderful and terrible life and I wouldn’t cry for myself.”

Williams is famous as the writer of the plays “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Night of the Iguana,” but was also dangerously addicted to various drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with his anxiety. He got hooked on prescription pills and was once committed to a mental hospital for three months.

Anne Rice

“The world changes. We do not. Therein lies the irony that kills us.”

Mostly known for her vampire novels and now writing religiously-themed books, Anne Rice began her career after the death of her 5-year old daughter and a difficult bout with depression.

Emily Dickinson

“This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me.”

Since not much is known about this poet’s personal life, it is possible that she may have had depression, bipolar disorder, and/or anxiety. Though her poetry was never famous during her lifetime, the discovery of hundreds of poems after her death have ensured her legacy.

J.K. Rowling

“Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. . . . It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope.” 

J.K. Rowling was struggling with depression when she began to write the famous Harry Potter series and has continued to deal with the complications that arise from the mental illness. The Dementors from her books serve as a metaphor for depression, as they suck the life force from their victims.

Source:

http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression-pictures/famous-writers-with-depression

Take A Look At What I’m Reading: Lovecraft and Sinclair

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H.P. Lovecraft and Upton Sinclair both wrote about horrors – one played in the world of the imaginary and the other waded through the muck of reality. I wanted to read Lovecraft because he is an icon of classic horror and I recently read Richard Matheson, whose stories inspired Stephen King and have been made into television, movies, etc, and so I went even further back with Lovecraft, who created Cthulu and Arkham, which now lives on in the Batman universe. I remember reading a section of “The Jungle” early in high school and it was free on my Kindle, soooooo. I’m also super into social justice and such.

Lovecraft published all his stories in this pulpy fiction magazines and they are just packed with delicious cliches, like creepy crumbly castles, horrifying monsters, space creatures, cults, bad dreams, and reasonable-minded narrators who gradually go insane. It’s all very campy and fun. My favorite stories in the Lovecraft book are: “The Colour out of Space,” “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and “Dreams in the Witch-House.” “The Colour out of Space” is the story of a family whose land is strangely morphed by a mysterious meteorite-type rock that falls from space. The vegetation glows, grows bigger than normal, and moves without wind. The family also begins to exhibit strange behavior and a friend of theirs grows increasingly worried about their well-being. The fate of the family is horrifically mysterious. “The Thing on the Doorstep” involves possession; a man is convinced that his wife’s soul is switching bodies with him, and also that his wife isn’t quite human. When the “thing on the doorstep” is revealed in the story’s last paragraph, it is pretty deliciously creepy. “Dreams in the Witch-House” features a brilliant student who purposely rents a room where a witch lived many years before. He is a math genius, and believes that it is possible to open portals to other dimensions through knowledge of numbers. At first, he isn’t bothered by the room, but he then begins to see the ghost of the old woman and her little devil-creature. Night after night, they grow clearer and clearer, and the young man has strange dreams involving a cult that demands he sign a mysterious book in his own blood. What will happen to him?? Probably nothing good.

“The Jungle” is almost absurdly depressing, but it also rings so true, that it’s impossible to not feel moved. Unless you’re in denial about the evils of capitalism. The story is engrossing and even though it feels kind of unsatisfying  at the end (the last part of the book is essentially Sinclair’s defense of socialism), I really felt connected to poor Jurgis and his family.

Very different books, but both good reads.

Heaven

After the last few hellish days, I’m slowly coming up for air. I’ve slept a lot, like in the old days, and not eaten very much. Most food tastes like ash and gets stuck in my throat, but I try to eat and bear it. The headaches seem constant. For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking four Motrin pills every day; two in the early afternoon and then two again at night when the pain returns. I don’t know why this is happening; I’m sure to put away my phone and not look at electronic screens, but the pain still comes.

I don’t like to open the shades. I feel exposed, like people can look in. Besides, I like the sound that the shades make with the air conditioning unit blowing on them. It sounds like rain, or like Chris is here, typing on his computer.

Life is exhausting. I sometimes try to think about what heaven will be like, when this life is over, and all I really want from heaven is a place to rest. I would be fine and happy if heaven was just a warm room with a fireplace and hot chocolate that never went empty and Baxter sleeping in his sweatshirt and Yoshi on the couch next to me. I hope Chris would like this heaven, but if he got bored, he could leave and I would be happy to wait for him to come back. I wouldn’t mind being alone; I could just read a book from an endless library.

Just a place to rest. To be still.

Take A Look At What I’m Reading: “Quiet” by Susan Cain

ImageIt took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I found myself underlining a lot of statements and then whole paragraphs that perfectly described me.

I’ve always preferred to work alone and be left alone. All of my hobbies were solitary: puzzles, writing, and reading. Not much has changed since then. When I’m doing academic work, I need isolation; in high school, study hall was completely useless. When I had to write a long thesis-like paper, I got the paper done in half the assigned time because I worked alone during long periods of solitary time (to be fair, that was also the year I barely attended class, so while others sat in earth science, I was busy researching from the comfort of my couch).

The part that grabbed me was when Ms. Cain started discussing group dynamics and how introverts interact in them, and even how being in groups is considerably less efficient than working alone. It affirmed my dislike of working in groups. I had to do it all through high school, but my worst experience was in college, when we had to do a group presentation on a topic in my New Testament class. It’s always tricky to decide how to divide up group work; how can a presentation be coherent and streamlined with 3-4 different people each working at their own skill level and with their own unique style? It’s like asking a committee to design a horse; you always end up with a camel. We didn’t have much time for the presentation, so we each did our part without ever seeing the others. There was weird places where things overlapped, gaps, and one of the students in our group just decided it was the perfect time to go on a rant about an irrelevant topic he was passionate about. We got a low score and I remember thinking, “Duh. Group presentations just don’t work.”

In her book, Ms. Cain writes that studies keep coming up that show group brainstorming is not efficient, even though people who participate believe they performed better than they did in reality. Problems with group brainstorming are aplenty, including the tendency for extroverts to dominate the session while introverts withdraw and are less likely to bring forth their own ideas. I’ve worked with younger people and seen this in practice; extroverts will speak louder and quicker, which often means they haven’t thought about their ideas first. Introverts were quiet and needed more coaxing. Further in the book, Ms. Cain says a troubling fact is that even if an answer is wrong, mixed groups of both introverts and extroverts are more likely to believe it is right, even if individually they have decided upon the correct answer.

Luckily, in this age of the internet, online brainstorming in groups works really well, because people are basically still alone. There isn’t a fear of having to deal with people face-to-face or a sense of time running out. The internet is totally a good thing and I will challenge anyone who says otherwise.