The most special things are the things that don't really belong anywhere but here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Epiphanies at the Michigan Writing Workshop

On September 12th, I went to the Michigan Writing Workshop in Livonia hosted by Chuck Sambuchino. I'm not going to go into the lessons that he taught us from 9:30-5 pm (yes, he talked almost the whole time. He's amazing.) I'm gonna touch more on the aha moments I had, and there were two pretty big ones. All I can say is, thank god I attended.

Aha #1: Agent = Helper, not God of Fortune

To say I was freaking out before this conference is an understatement. I was pitching my novel to agents face to face for the first time ever, and I wasn't feeling too confident.

I've been querying agents off and on since 2013, so you can imagine how many "no's" that equals. I believe in this project fiercely. You would have to tear it out of my cold, dead hands if you wanted me to just toss it. But it's an indistinct genre for an indistinct audience, and it's hella long. I have at least ten revisions saved on my computer. I hired an editor. I changed my query every few agents. I watched my friends get new jobs and move and get married and have kids, all while I obsessed over this thing. I've often wondered if everyone I know pities me, if they scrunch up their noses and whisper, "Oh, bless her heart. Maybe soon she'll grow up and put her energy somewhere more productive." Any aspiring novelist knows EXACTLY what I'm talking about, I'm sure.

So it's easy to mistake the agent as the one who's going to give you validation, who's going to tell you it's all been worth it, that your work is amazing and that you matter as a person. But that's like expecting a labrador to be a panther. It's just not what they are. (I know, that's a terrible metaphor. I'm Sorry.)

Both agents I talked to liked the premise. Both agents were terrified of the length. They gave me honest and helpful feedback, both during the face-to-face sessions and one in a follow-up email, and because of that, I can say that I now have a plan. Like a real, actual PLAN. You may not get an agent at a conference, but you will get feedback, and you will have a more clear idea of what your next move should be. I wish I had known that going into the pitch-- I probably would have slept a little easier the night before.

Aha #2: Don't ask yourself if your first page is "good" or "bad." Ask yourself if it's competitive. 

Without a doubt, the most valuable--and suspenseful--part of the conference was Writers' Got Talent, or as I prefer to call it, American Idol for Writers. Chuck read our first pages, and as soon as the agents would stop reading if it were in their slush pile, they raised their hands. Over the hour and fifteen minutes that this was done, I think only three or four people had their first page read the whole way through. Some people only had two of their sentences read before hands were raised. One person's didn't even make it to that second sentence.

It was brutal.

Here's an exaggerated reenactment:

Chuck: (reading) It was a cold and blustery day when Toby died. I had just buttoned up my red coat from Hollister, and I couldn't stop sneezing.

Agent #1: (raises hand) Yeah, I feel like this prose is a bit off. Instead of telling me that she buttoned the coat, show me that she buttoned the coat. Instead of telling me that she sneezed, let me feel the sneeze. I just didn't feel the sneeze as a reader.

Agent #2: Opening with the weather is just really cliché. We see it done way, way too often.

Agent #3: Why should I care about Toby and the fact that he's dead? Why should I care about this main character? Character development needs to be more apparent in this opening, both for the main character and for the dead, rotting corpse that is Toby.

Okay, it wasn't exactly like that, but at the same time, it was. It was your creative writing workshop worst nightmare.

After about three pages, Chuck had heard too many grumbles, and he stopped to address the audience. I told these guys to be tough on you, he said. They're not doing you any favors by being dishonest. True. We stopped our grumbles. Agents are looking for a reason to say no-- they get tons of queries every day.

I very quickly went from praying they would pick my page to praying that they wouldn't. And then they did. I thought my heart was going to beat up out of my throat. Chuck made it about a paragraph in before hands were raised. The agent who spoke was-- I shit you not-- the first agent I ever queried in 2013. I had never heard back from her. "Everything's just kind of in the main character's head," she said. "I skimmed every paragraph, and it's still like that." She was the only one who said anything. I was like, really universe?!

I was very attached to the way I opened my novel. It foreshadowed stuff that was going to happen at the end, and it also tied into how book two ends and how book three begins. (Of course, explaining that rationale to an agent would be the dead giveaway of an amateur.) So then the battle in my head went like this: "I think the beginning is good. If I change it, that's like saying it's not good, and it's also selling out. So I can't change it."

By the end of Writers' Got Talent, it was starting to dawn on me that thinking about things in the subjective terms of "good" and "bad" is the quickest way to block anything that could lead to your next step. Ask yourself instead if that beginning is competitive. Out of all the books someone sifts through during a rainy day at the book store, what's going to make them stop and focus on yours?

One tip that Chuck gave us was to mosey through the aisle at Barns and Noble and just read the first page of books in our genre. So the other day I ordered myself a pumpkin spice latte and did just that. I noticed a trend.

Most first pages have:

1) A first sentence (or two sentences) that sets the tone, and it's almost ALWAYS related to a character.
2) A brief description of setting-- like, no more than a paragraph.
3) Dialogue

I still like my opening, but maybe it's not competitive. I think it's easy when you're a writer to forget that there are a million other people trying to do exactly what you're doing. I think it's easy to read your favorite books or the classics and think that your stuff is just as good, if not better. We forget how big the writing world is and how much amazing stuff is being done. What worked twenty years ago wouldn't be enough ten years ago, and that wouldn't be enough today. It's fiercely competitive out there, which is challenging for people like me who don't have a competitive bone in their body.

I think the biggest lie we tell each other about artistry is that talent is rare. What's even more damaging is if you hear this repeatedly as a kid-- which I did. It makes you think that you're almost entitled to recognition because you have this thing that no one else has. Well the truth, kiddos, is that while you may have a voice that's unique to you, talent is not rare. Talent is everywhere. And you aren't entitled to anything.

Maybe that idea wouldn't end up on a motivational poster, but the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can actually get something done.

A Final Tip: Stay Until the End

Around 3:30 or 4, I was done. I was exhausted. My body was coming down from the stress of the pitches, and my ego was shot from the comparisons it was making all day-- well at least my writing is better than THAT person's! Ugh, that first page was SO much better than mine, etc. etc.-- but the woman next to me said to stay to the end because that's when the good stuff comes, and I'm glad I listened. With all the technical publishing stuff out of the way, Chuck talked about his own experiences and hit some important points, like staying curious and open as a person--that's how connections happen--and not giving away too much in your writing; mystery is your friend. So if you plan on going to a writer's conference, stay until the end, even if you feel like you're about to melt into a puddle on the floor, because the closing might pick you up a bit.

So now, I turn it to you. How have you felt after leaving a writer's conference? Any ah-ha's? If you've never attended one, what's the worst (or best) writing workshop you've ever been in? When and why do you feel resistant to making changes in your writing? I want to know, so please share!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

One Woman's Journey Through Her Junk Drawer

Most humans on planet Earth have at least one junk drawer, and if you're anything like me, more than one. Often times, junk drawers are full of things you need, but don't have specific places for, like scissors and chip clips, but what about the drawer full of stuff that you don't need, the stuff that holds no practical purpose besides the fact that you just can't let go? That's the journey I'm taking you on today.

Exploring: the top drawer of this beautiful wooden chest purchased from an antique store in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Supposedly, it was found in an old mansion. I hope it's haunted. Objects can be haunted.


- I'm starting with the most important: a bow from my favorite shirt in 5th grade, which got spaghetti on it and fell off. 5th grade was fun. It was right before everything went to hell. I can never get rid of this.

- A million letters, mostly from my friend Beth, filled with every little thing that happened in our lives. We wrote each other wonderfully pointless and long winded letters for years, and we need to start this up again.

- Two tickets from separate American Idol concerts. At one, I almost died.

- The ticket from when I saw Conan live in Chicago. Almost died from love.

- Physical therapy exercises, which I never always do.

- Old Christmas cards. My favorite comes from my friends Anne and Matt, who win at everything.

- A letter to me written by Mom's friend when I was first born. She tells me I'm precious. She tells me I kicked a nurse and then clenched my fist "ever so slowly." Mom isn't friends with this lady anymore.

- This PSA

- A million buttons that I will never sew on my shirts once a button actually falls off.

- A scrap of paper where I wrote "Tennyson & Keiser- Maur." Here I am, finally listening to it again years later, thanks to my note. The song isn't by itself on YouTube, but someone made it the background of a Rockefeller Christmas Tree video, so listen to it while you read the rest of this, or something.

 -Broccoli and Cheese Man cast photo. I need to talk about this for a minute.

Yes, Dad is wearing a pompom on his head.
I think I've mentioned this before, but when I was about nine, I became really obsessed with Barney. One day, while my friend Chelsea and I played with sidewalk chalk, we created a character called Brocooli and Cheese Man, a man just like Barney the dinosaur, except he was not a dinosaur, but a man made from broccoli and cheese. I'm not sure what his purpose was. I'm guessing to help kids be healthy? He was magical.

Feeding farm animals
The summer before fourth grade, I got it in my head that I needed to write a script and shoot an episode of Broccoli and Cheese Man. My long-suffering father was the star. I had selected specific friends for specific roles, and they were all game. Unfortunetly, our video camera broke, so we decided to take pictures and have it be a picture book. There's a segment where we got in the pool, but it was raining, so Mom took the pictures from inside, and most are just of the window screen. But then we danced and fed farm animals, which is unfortunately fortunetly preserved.

Every now and then, I come across one of these pictures, and they're so horrifyingly embarrassing that it's like, how can I NOT put them on the internet? (Yes, there are more. No, I could not find them.)

Back to the list:

-A Puffalump Keepsake book, recorded by Mom. Proof that I was always real creative.

- For a time, big sister Liz, cousin Natalie, and I pretended like we were news reporters. Here's several gruesome fake news reports NOT written by me, thank you very much.

-A children's book, The Freshest Milk, the Smoothest Smoothy, written by Abigail Alena Bishop Lavine. I had a very rich imaginary life with my dolls, as I've documented here, and this book was about my doll son. Things to note on the author page: I make sure to say my three year old lives with her father. "Book marm" is one of my jobs.

- A doodle from summer '97 involving a story line from Days of Our Lives that Natalie, Liz, and I found hilarious. Can't get rid of this.

- A flyer from when Michelle Obama came to visit Las Vegas in 2008. I walked my class downtown to see her instead of teaching, because even though Dr. Kempner said it wasn't okay, Dr. Middleton said it was. ("This is HISTORY!") Obama paper dolls are in the desk, too.

-Envelopes containing predictions my friends and I made for ourselves and each other in 2008 to be opened in 2012. They depress me greatly. There's another envelope with new predictions for 2016, which I accidentally glanced at, and already I'm depressed again.

- Note from Dad, addressed to "clever, magical Brigette" from "logical and wise Wolf Pop." This was either attached to a fairy statue or my cat tarot deck he gave me for Christmas-- don't remember.

-Aura pictures, palm reader notes, and personality tests. How would I know who I am without all this data? I need to talk about this for a minute. I repeat myself a lot in this thing, but I don't think I've ever really touched on my family's obsession with the supernatural. It's honestly odd that I haven't.

There's too much to say about all of that, but the palm reader experience stands out in my family's supernatural journey. We walked into this lady's house thinking we were gonna get swindled and quickly realized we were wrong. The readings were so accurate that one of us would often say "oh no, I don't think that's true," and everyone else would look at each other and mouth "yes it is!" She knew about things that happened to us at certain ages, told us stuff about our health, and different struggles with our personalities. She told me I was Neptunean, that I was not of this earth and just didn't belong here. Accurate.

The thing that's striking about palm reading is that it's a science. There is no psychic stuff going on, no channeling. The reader herself said she had no supernatural abilities. YOU could be a palm reader. And so could YOU! And so could YOU!

Did you know that the points in your hands have to do with the planets? And that you can also read people's irises, but we don't do that in America much, and the irises look like the universe? And have I ever showed you this HD picture of orbs I took at a grave yard years ago that also look like the universe? Ghosts collect in a parallel universe and the universe is in your hands and eyes. The planets are in cahoots with your personality and your life and this is actually something you can MEASURE! IT'S SCIENCE!

Anyway, what's happening? There's stuff in my junk drawer?

-Okay, one more item, my grad school ID. My face is almost completely rubbed away. When I pulled this item out, I actually paused and recoiled. It's is absolutely terrifying. I mean *I* must be the ghost who haunts my wooden chest, right? Okay enough with the ghost stuff. ENOUGH! I'm shutting this whole thing down!


The stuff we save for no reason is to preserve memories of relationships-- relationships with other people, and our relationship with ourselves, different parts of ourselves from different times. It's all about full integration. We go about our daily lives and have our jobs and our titles, or lack there of, all the while trying subconcousily to hold together a narrative about ourselves, and the junk drawer symbolizes that part in our brain where memory holds love and identity and security and consistency. Did that sound smart? I literally just wrote without stopping like a stream of concousiness. I have no idea what I'm saying.

Take the Junk Drawer Challenge! Find a drawer full of impractical things and tell me what's in it. How far back do these items go, and why have you kept ahold of them? What relationship are you trying to preserve? What would you lose if you actually were to throw the thing away?

OR dump the entire drawer on your head, put it on social media, and then challenge a friend to do the same thing and donate money to a disease! Definetly do one of those two things, and as always, let me know how it goes!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

7 "Inspirational" Mantras That Are Actually Ruining Our Lives

Every now and then, I see inspirational quotes or sayings that really speak to me, but most of the time, I just find them irritating. I always thought it was because many tend to over-simplify things, but then one day, I realized it was bigger than that; these mantras that we hold dear in our American lives, these sayings that we wear proudly on our shirts and slap on our cars as bumper stickers are actually ruining our lives. We think they give us inspiration, but they're acutally just incredibly unhelpful, the opposite of what we should really be telling ourselves. With this in mind, I took some time to correct many of these cliche inspirational mantras and make some crappy brilliant posters of my own that you can put on your walls to replace the life-ruining ones.

#1: "Dream Until Your Dreams Come True"

Such a beautiful thought, right? It reminds us of twinkling starlight and Disney movies. But here's the dirty little truth on this one: dreaming has to lead to action, or else it's useless. You know how much time I've spent dreaming, both while awake and while asleep? If  dreams could convert into some type of currency, I'd be living in a palace eating gold.  I've only accomplished like, three things in my whole life. This mantra ruins lives because it ends too quickly, leaving out the most important factor that makes dreams come true. Yes, dreaming time is a very important step in creation and change, but you can't just say there.

Mantra corrected:

"Work Until Your Dreams Come True"

#2: "You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To"

Can you? I'm pretty sure no matter how much time I spend reading about astrology, I will never work for NASA. I don't think everyone has the physical body to be a gymnast. Just because you love music doesn't mean you're creative enough to compose a symphony. I think this mantra can ruin lives when people start to feel bad about what they haven't accomplished, like they can't do this or that because they haven't worked hard enough. Maybe you just weren't meant to do it? Maybe you were meant to do something else. We all have different skill sets, different brains and potentials, and that's a good thing.

Mantra corrected:

"Test Your Limits, Then Know Them & Focus On What You CAN Do & Get Really Good At That"

#3: "Everything Happens For A Reason"

This one gets tricky because it bleeds into religious territory, and I don't want to shut down anyone's beliefs, but I struggle with this one myself. Some things DO seem meant to be. Others are too horrible to be worthy of justifying some grand plan. I get nervous when people act like EVERYTHING is pre-destined because I'm like, "Do you ever watch the news???" How will these people deal with truly terrible shit that happens in their lives, as it most likely will at some point? I'm not talking about losing a job or a break-up; I'm talking about death and illness and natural disaster and political unrest. I worry for these people. I think it's dangerous to think that fate or God or the universe makes everything happen. At what point are you absolved of responsibility? At what point will you be mad at God for what he supposedly did to you? I gots to much to say on this one, so I'm just gonna leave it at this before I start spewing off my own spiritual beliefs.

Mantra Corrected:

"The Universe is Not Shitting On You; Good Can Come From ANY Situation"

#4: "Dream Big" and/or "Expect Great Things"

Trust me, dreaming big will only lead to feeling like a failure. Dream small, achievable dreams that can increase as you meet goals. Instead of expecting great things, expect nothing. This was my only resolution for 2015, and I've got thirty years of reasons why. Our culture has a problem with expecting great things, and honestly, I think it's our downfall. We are all encouraged to expect above-average lives, which can turn into feeling like we are entitled to great big things. Not good things, comforting things, or pleasant things, but GREAT things. When we don't get these things or they're not GREAT enough, we feel bad about ourselves, resent each other, and again, hate God. That's sad. On the contrary, when you don't expect great things, or really anything, I think it's easier to see more of the good. You're not distracted by what this "should have" been and you can just appreciate what it is. Hopefully.

Corrected Mantra:

"Do Your Best, Expect Nothing, & You May Be Pleasantly Surprised"

#5: "Don't Worry. Be Happy!"

This is similar to "be fearless" or "be confident" or "choose to be happy." I think these ideas ruin lives because no matter what anyone says, you cannot control how you FEEL. YOU CAN'T. Why do we keep insisting that you can?! We can choose what we focus on, with effort. I would like to emphasize again WITH EFFORT. We can choose how we act and how we treat each other, but we cannot control what we think or how we feel. I can't just not worry. I can't just be happy. And you know, sometimes you have to worry. I can't pay my bills! That makes me worried! I should do something about that. Nah man, just be happy. Okay! Now I'm homeless. So stupid. I'm not saying we should be slaves to bad feelings, but they require management, not rejection.

Mantra Corrected:

"Notice When You Are Focusing Too Much on What Makes You Worry & Make Time To Focus on What Makes You Happy"

#6: "Live Life With No Regrets"

Okay, out of all the life-ruining mantras, this one is by far the worst. Living life with no regrets is the stupidest idea we have adopted into our cultural consciousness. Regret is the result of learning. Learning is an important part of being a person. Regrets are often accompanied with pain, and if our culture is anything, it's one dead-set on numbing and rejecting pain, to the point of fetishism. But Oprah herself would tell you that the only way out of the pain is through. "Live life with no regrets" not only glorifies the rejection of reflection, growth, and responsibility, but it also diminishes how hard it can be to make choices. Respect the decision-making process that we all go through in life and have empathy with yourself when you struggle with it; everyone does, and that's called The Deal You Got When You Agreed to be a Human Being.

Mantra Corrected:

 "Reflect Heavily On Your Regrets, Then Move Forward & Make Different Choices"

#7: "Live Life to the Fullest"

What does this even mean?! Whose idea of "the fullest" am I supposed to be following? Usually, this mantra is accompanied with pictures of mountain climbers in foreign lands or something that involves Eat, Pray, Love-esque soul searching. Your life is full if you've gone to a lot of places and met strange people and made impulsive decisions, never mind if they were "mistakes" or not. (Oh yeah, they weren't mistakes. Live life with no regrets.) Am I supposed to feel bad about myself because this all sounds awful? Being physically active and making small talk with strangers are two of the things that I hate the most. It also just looks like a lot of emptiness to me. Our culture tells us that a person who backpacks across Europe making surfacey, sexy relationships is living a fuller life than someone who stays home taking care of her family who she loves & counseling her friends over the phone, and I think that's gross. I guess if you value adventure and new things, then fine. But I value relationships and naps and art and pie.

Corrected Mantra:

"Define Your Values & Try To Live Them Out Fully Every Day"

So what do you think? Have you ever followed or tried to follow one of these cliches and felt like you were a failure at life when you couldn't make them work? Did you used to like one of these ideas and now find it annoying? Are you mad at me for how I defined these mantras and want to defend them? What annoying mantras have I missed? I know there's a million of them. Sound off!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

We Wish You a Creepy Christmas

Well, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and we all know what that means: lots of baking, last minute shopping, wrapping gifts, practicing how softly you can cry in anticipation of the family gathering
where Aunty Muriel will ask you why you've never brought a man to one of these things, etc., etc. It's also when we revisit our favorite holiday stories and listen to our favorite holiday songs. Have you ever taken pause though and really heard the lyrics, really thought about the details? If you did, you may realize that some of your Christmas favorites are actually kind of creepy, or at least have the potential to be.

#1: "Baby, It's Cold Outside"

No one hates this song more than my big sister, Liz. To her, it may as well be called "I Spiked Your Drink and Won't Let You Leave." The girl sings, "Say what's in this drink?" The guy repeatedly sings, "Baby, don't hold out." Her drink is probably just alcohol right? Maybe a kind she hadn't tried before, a cocktail if you will, and it's stronger than she expected. But maybe not. Maybe my sister is right, and it's filled with roofies. Should this song be updated? Maybe the dad and brother show up the next day with a shot gun? Maybe a jolly prosecutor enters the scene with a twinkle in his eye? Should we not joke about this?

If you have to listen to this song, just make sure it's the Haley & Casey version.

Does anyone remember that movie All I Want for Christmas staring Thora Birch? I loved that movie when I was little, and Thora's duet with Lauren Becall was the first time I remembered hearing "Baby, It's Cold Outside." I thought it was cute. But the whole thing is about convincing a girl she should stay at your house so you can hook up, and a grandmother is singing that to her granddaughter? Why? Just why?

No way is that Thora Birch's voice.

#2: "Santa Baby"

Sometimes I wonder if stores knew how much of my business they lost by playing "Santa Baby"  if they would still insist on playing it at all. I really can't express how much I hate this song. First of all, I am not a fan of grown women singing in a pouty, baby-way to be sexy. Why is it sexy to sound like a baby? Can anyone please explain this to me??? (Actually, do I want you to?) I also just hate it when women entice men by acting like they have some sort of mental deficiency and all they want is presents, so like, there's that.

The only type of santa baby I approve of.
Most disturbingly, this grown woman-baby is basically singing about how she wants to do Santa. Santa. He's old, by thousands of years. He's not the healthiest. He's already married to Mrs. Claus. He lives in a cold, remote location. He's magical, but decides to go down chimneys instead of just putting elf dust on the door handle and walking inside, and his soul purpose for living is to give children toys like a kindly grandfather. This young woman wants to get it on with that guy. Does she need MEDICATION?! "Santa Baby" is actually a song about a mentally unstable woman with a fetish, which is fine, I guess, but not while I'm buying my mom a sweater at Macy's.

Wait, this movie was a thing?
#3: "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"

I had no problem with this song, but again, Liz ruined it for me. I always thought the song was about how the Dad dressed up as Santa and the kid didn't know it was his dad, and he saw his mom and dad kissing when he was supposed to be asleep. This is what the song is about, right?

Liz decided the song was about a kid who caught his mother having an affair and to deal with the trauma, he told himself that this other man was actually Santa Claus. This is quite a stretch, but Liz feels so passionately about her interpretation that it makes me wonder if there's something to it.

#4: The Nutcracker 

Uncle Drosselmeyer, right? It goes without saying that he's creepy. We know he's magical and weird, but I never really understood why he had to be so sinister at the same time. If Clara didn't really dream all of that, and Uncle Drosselmeyer really made her shrink to the size of a mouse and endure a battle with toy soldiers, then that's just messed up. But that's not really what bothers me about him.

I've seen a lot of different versions of The Nutcracker over the years, and I swear I've seen performances that involved some version of the Nutcracker turning into Uncle Drosselmeyer, or Uncle Drosselmeyer cutting into Clara's romantic dance with the Nutcracker and having a solo where he danced with her. I haven't seen these versions in a while, maybe because producers caught on to the inscesty vibes (after what, like a hundred years?) but I never forgot them. Uncle Drosselmeyer makes me very uncomfortable, and he should not be trusted around children.

Does anyone remember this claymation Nutcracker that was on TV in the 80's? We had it on tape, and I loved how cool the claymation looked, but it also terrified me. About a year ago, I saw the opening on YouTube and was horrified that my parents ever let me watch it in the first place. It was like I suddenly had a crystal clear understanding of where 90% of my anxieties and fears originated from. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why I'm crazy:


#5: "He sees you when you're sleeping/ He knows when you're awake"

No further explanation needed.

We're gonna go with these.
#6: Okay, I don't remember what this story is called, and it's been told so many times that I'm not even sure of its origin, but when I read it, I  sunk into a deep depression that I thought I would never climb out of:

This woman is shopping for presents and it's almost Christmas. She sees two little kids trying to buy a pair of heels for their mom, but they don't have enough money, so the lady buys the heels for them. The kids are so excited. "Oh, thank you!" They say, "Our Mommy is sick and dying, and she'll look so pretty meeting Jesus in these shoes!"

If you're the type of person who thinks that story is sweet, inspiring, or heartwarming, then don't ever talk to me, ever. I'm not kidding. Even writing that out just now upset me.

#7: There are some non-cannon Christmas songs That are depressing as well. I swear this was a Kenny Rogers song, but I can't find evidence of it: "The Last Silent Night." It's about a family who sang "Silent Night" every year, and then the mother got old and was dying and they sang "Silent Night" for the last time. Cheerful, no? Honorable mention goes to Barbara Mandrell's song, "Born to Die,"which includes the lyrics, "Sweet baby Jesus/ you knew you were born to die." I thought he was primarily born to spread light to the world and that's the point of Christmas, but whatever.

#8: Love Actually

To half of my friends who love this Christmas movie, I know I rant about how much I hate it all the time and it annoys you and I'm sorry for that and I'm sorry for repeating it now, and actually, I can't do a better job of ripping it apart than the people who did the "Honest Trailer" video below,  so I'll just say a few things: It's depressing. It's boring. It's not Christmasy. Snape cheats on his wife. No matter how many times people make me watch it, I don't remember half of it. You should take that seriously, because I remember being bottle fed and having my diapers changed and I'm NOT kidding.

This SNL Love Actually spoof that was cut for time is very much worth watching as well…

I feel like there's so many more that I can't remember, so you need to help me out. What other Christmas songs and stories are secretly creepy, depressing, or just send a strange message? Would you like to defend any of the above items that I criticized, or add to the criticism? Tell me your thoughts, and please, have a very merry Christmas!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Playing Therapist

Sometimes, I think I should just change the name of this blog to "weird stuff from my childhood,"
because basically, that's the majority of these posts. I'm coming to terms with this.

I may have mentioned before that me, my cousin Natalie, and my big sister Liz, played a little longer than maybe other kids did. We created alter egos who were single mothers (to our dolls). We were also detectives, authors, and school teachers. The summer before seventh grade, after finding blank clinical assessment notes of my dad's, we decided we were also going to be therapists.

We each typed up our own clinical assessment notes, complete with our alter egos' names at the top. I was Alena Parker (formally Alena Bishop), Ph.D. We asked Dad to print off several copies--I don't remember how many, but Dad was in his office for a really long time while we were in the car, and he was pretty crabby when he came back.

At our next visit, we decided that we needed to see our clients, so we insisted that my mom draw them for us. She spent the entire visit taking orders on how our clients should look and producing them. This made her very crabby, because she really just wanted to talk to my aunts.

We each had our own section of Natalie's room-- our "office"-- where we would put our client's picture in a chair and talk to them, being both the voice of the client and the therapist. We rolled pieces of gum and called them "gum smokes," which we pretended were cigarettes while we counseled. (May I just say I've always found the whole concept of "gum" to be disgusting, and I only participated due to peer pressure.)

Recently, I found some of the pictures and notes from playing Therapist. Here's a few of my favorites, word-for-word as they originally appeared in 1996:

Meet Joyce Richardson.

Current Problem: Dissociative Fuge
History: Joice was born in 1966 to Clair and Robert Richardson. Joice grew up with no toys and no friends. Her parents sent her to a Christian school until she was 13, then said the school was teaching her nothing. Joice's older sister Susan ran away at 15. Robert beat Clair, finally to death, and Joice and her little sister were sent to live with her aunt, Opal Richardson, who sent Joice to a boarding school and killed Joice's little sister, Amy, and five with a bullet. Joice came back to her aunt's house at 16 and found her little sister's dead body in a locked closet. (After a YEAR?) Her aunt was found hung a day later, from suicide. Joice went to live on her own and got a job at a restaurant. Currently works as a secretary.

                                                               Meet Jacklin Rein.
Diagnosis: Manic Depressive
History: Jacklin was born to Ruth and Simon Rein on January 20, 1973. She was the middle child. Her older sister was very self indulgent and put Jacklin down for most of her life by criticizing and making fun of her. Ruth seemed to favor her oldest daughter over Jacklin and her younger sister. She went to UCLA in 1991. She got a degree in art, and sold her art at a local art store. In 1993, Jacklin's older sister committed suicide. Ruth and Simon decided it was Jacklin's fault, and haven't spoken to them since. Jacklin entered a religious group in '94 where they thought there was no god or devil, and when you died you were just gone. (You mean ATHEISM?) Jacklin quit the group in November '95, but still believes in the group's ideas tremendously. Jacklin currently sells her art in the same local store.

Meet Roberta Bremen
Diagnosis: Dependant Personality Disorder
Clinical Symptoms: Dependant on a Cult
History: Roberta Bremen was borin in 1950 to Katherine and Jack Linne. After their death in 1961, Roberta and her three brothers moved in with their grandfather. Roberta became withdrawn. Her grandfather wanted her to be a boy, so he called her Bob. She believes this caused her to become more dependent on her grandfather because of her low self-esteem in not being what her grandfather wanted. When she was 14, she met Allen Bremen and married him at 20. She moved into Allen's trailer. He brought money home from working at a gas station. In 1982, Roberta and Allen had a daughter Meri and in 1989, a daughter Angela. In 1990, Roberta and Allen went to join a religious cult. Now, they'd like to leave but don't know how.
Therapy Modality: Bring up the bad things about the cult to help them realize it's bad for them.
Therapy Goals: To get Allen and Roberta out of the cult.

Let's not forget, I also counseled Roberta's nerdy husband.

I had a few children clients, including Samantha O'Herra who really had no problems, except she was jealous of her baby brother. I even drew a picture that she drew of him.

I made my mom draw Samantha twice, but why? WHO is the real Samantha? This is an enduring mystery.

I found some of  Liz's clients and notes as well. Her clients all had similar problems-- their parents didn't give them enough attention, they had bad relationships with their siblings-- not exciting at all… except for Lexy Hill, who is suffering from nightmares and doesn't know why. The notes don't offer clues, but her picture does….


I also found this urgent memo that Liz (Gillian's) secretary left her, written by Liz, and this amazing note about Jeff's dog.

He had a dog named Boner that died of old age. Boner.

It sort of makes sense that the girls and I invented this game since we were constantly writing novels-- or at least starting them, writing twenty pages, and then starting another. We were teaching ourselves how to do character backstory without even knowing it. GOD, WHAT CHILD PRODIGIES WE WERE!

Exercise: If you are a writer, create mock Clinical Assessment notes for your characters. Diagnose them with something, write up their history, make a few progress notes, and maybe even draw their picture, or find a picture from a magazine and tack it on to the notes. Keep everything in an actual manila folder for each character. Do this for everyone, even the minor characters. You never know what might come of it! (This is where my helpfulness ends for this entry.)

Surprisingly though, Therapist was NOT my favorite game of ours. At the time, I thought it was the gum smokes. Something about the mintiness gave me headaches (actually, it was the strain from holding them up to my face, which was enough to tighten the muscles in my back, and the pain shot up to my forehead like a headache, but I wouldn't figure this out until I was about fifteen. Scoliosis!) But now, I know it was more.

For one thing, unlike playing with dolls or playing teacher and writing on the blackboard, there was literally nothing to interact with. I was just sitting in a chair talking at a picture. It helped that Natalie and Liz were sitting in their own chairs talking at their own pictures, but still.

Exercise: Create a name, voice, and persona for a different person. Create a name, voice, and persona for how you imagine you would be as a therapist. Speak out loud a conversation between these two people, not forgetting to change your voice. See how long it takes you to lose your mind.

Also, I think something about it was just depressing. It's one thing to write about a character who lived through a terrible childhood or who can't escape a cult, but embodying that person in real-time is another thing entirely.

Fast forward to around 2008-2009ish. Liz, now a grown-up, is getting her Master's in social work for real, and as a part of her homework, she has to do mock-therapy exercises with volunteers. When she asked me to pretend to be a drug addict, I was like, "that sounds like fun!" However, as twenty minutes became forty-five and so on, I was surprised at how down it was getting me. I started almost feeling like it was real, just the way the question and response was going. I was like, "oh my god, I lost custody of my children and I'm working at Family Dollar because I can't stop my meth habit. Life is hopeless!" The whole thing was just weird and kind of awful. I'm guessing this is what I had been doing to myself as a twelve-year-old playing Therapist.

Exercise: Imagine your life going a totally different way. What if instead of doing this to combat your anxiety, you did that? What if you made one too many bad decisions and now you're in drug counseling and have lost almost everything? Speak all of this out loud with no irony. Don't even change your voice. See how long it takes before you find yourself outside on the ground, rolling around in the cold mud, just to feel something again.

I have no idea how to end this entry, because I'm not completely sure what the point of it is, but let me try: *Cue Full House Music.* It's interesting the intrigue and excitement we place on things that we don't understand, especially as children. Dissociative Fugues might be really compelling for an hour on Dateline, but if you were working with this person one-on-one, or worse yet, if you were this person, there would be nothing exciting about it at all, just a lot of pain, struggle, and hopefully after a while, some kind of healing. But there's nothing wrong with curiosity, especially in the hard stuff, the weird stuff, and the complicated stuff, because that's where the stories are. Just stay away from the gum smokes, because they will make your scoliosis way worse than it already is.

Now I turn it over to you: When you were a kid, did you ever play Therapist? Did you ever think something was intriguing and then grow up and realize that it was actually really depressing? Did you ever make your parents do ridiculous things so you could play, like I did to mine? Have you thanked your parents lately for this? Do you like to draw?

I leave you with the one client that I tried to sketch myself, Susan Luci. Peace out.