Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

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I Read It So You Don’t Have To: How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

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Whenever I write a book review I remind myself an actual human being wrote this book-remember to be empathetic in your review, be fair, be firm.

But when it comes to Cat Marnell’s memoir How To Murder Your Life…well, screw being nice. As the kids say, “I can’t even.”

Now I’m a pretty caring and compassionate person, especially when it comes to someone in a cruel grip of addiction and mental health issues. I’ve read countless books about people dealing with these issues and I know people in real life who have dealt with these issues. And have offered an open-mind and a shoulder to cry on to them.

Knowing a smidge about Marnell due to my interest and experience in both fashion and media I picked up How to Murder Your Life thinking it would be a book about a young woman’s harrowing journey through addiction while trying to make a living in two very challenging industries while also dealing with personal issues like family, education, friends, love and various mundane tasks like paying the bills and making sure the fridge is full.

I thought How To Murder Your Life would convey how Marnell finally realized she had a problem and had a someone or several someones intervene and tell her she needs to get help. I thought it would be a tale of Marnell agreeing to get help, go to rehab and at turns deal with breakthroughs and breakdowns finally arriving on some type of sobriety and doing everything in her power to stay that way. I expected wisdom, clarity, vulnerability and redemption. I was at the very least, hoping for a well-written book.

I got none of these things.

Marnell grew up posh and privileged in the DC area. Her family is both loving and at times infuriating. Marnell, as a child, seems to be silly, fun, creative and like any kid, a bit of a handful. Well, aren’t we all? From a very young age Marnell is interested in the fashion/beauty industry and develops a passion for magazines, going to the point of creating her own ‘zine.

When she reaches her teens she decides to attend boarding school and soon after goes into a tailspin, some of it where she is truly a victim (she loses her virginity to what seems to be date rape), but most of it where she is a willing and enthusiastic participant. Lazy, obnoxious, and fully entitled, Marnell barely graduates high school, can’t quite get into a proper college and gets addicted to various substances thinking it makes her dangerous, edgy and glamorous like she’s the Edie Sedgwick of the modern age.

But despite her lack of education, talent and mastery of anything other than taking an alphabet of any drug she comes across, Marnell gets an enviable gig working for Lucky magazine. Much of her easy entry is due to being privileged, white, thin and spoiled and well-connected. Granted, this isn’t exactly rare in the world of media and fashion.

Thus, Marnell continues to be a complete trainwreck, professionally, personally and romantically. From her early days with Lucky to later on where Marnell is working for the website xoJane under the “legendary” Jane Pratt.

Drugged out her gourd, Marnell’s life is a collection of missed deadlines and missed periods. But instead of being horrified by her life, she seems almost proud. And sadly, she is coddled by nearly everyone in her realm and as How to Murder Your Life reaches its conclusion, Marnell is still a fucking junkie!

Well, isn’t that a trip? Is How to Murder Your Life well-written? No. Marnell’s writing is distraught, callow, unenlightened and so purple Prince would probably say, “Okay, that’s enough.” And the name dropping of celebs, high priced cosmetics and designer duds just made me roll my eyes. Your not only one to apply MAC to your lips, Marnell. It doesn’t make your special (As I type this I’m wearing Chanel no. 5. Yes, you may touch the hem of my ancient Limited sweater).

Fortunately, there are countless on books about drug addiction that are worthy of your time. How to Murder Your Life is clearly not one of them.

 

 

Bipolar Disorder Days: One Woman’s Experience by Jen Locke

I met Jen Locke when we were freshman in college. We both shared a love of books, pop culture, cats, political discussion and writing. You best know her as a guest writer whose reviews and various opinions have been published at this very blog.

There is another thing Jen and I share, battles with mental illness. Jen has chosen to share her battle with bipolar disorder by writing this essay. Thank you Jen for sharing your store. You are a very brave woman.

It’s a full-time job in itself. That’s why I’m not working. Bipolar disorder is tough. There’s no finding the right medicinal cocktail and just leaving it. Every day is another self-assessment.

Am I feeling happy? Am I thinking faster than I can keep up? I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s a unique, surreal experience. Am I talking fast? Jumping from topic to topic? Is it the normal topic jumping or excessive topic jumping? Am I being inappropriately boisterous? Am I confident that I’m invincible? Am I seeking out risky situations? Am I aggressive? Am I getting angry easily? Do I think I have an unrealistic amount of power? Am I scaring others? Yes? No? To what degree? Is this just a one-off? Should I be worried?

Truth is, if I’m cognizant enough to ask those questions, I’m not fully manic yet. Chances are, though, that it feels too good in this state to want to attempt to rein it in. So even if the answers come up as yes, I won’t bother doing anything about it. I want to feel this way. This is feeling good. This is the me that people like. This is the me I like to present to people.

If I’m truly manic, I won’t be able to even consider the idea that I’m manic. Good luck trying to get me to look at my behavior. It’s not going to work. You’re going to have to coax me from that state into being calmer without me knowing it. You’re going to have to trick me into mellowing out. And then I might consider your suggestion that I might have been manic. Most likely, though, I’ll just keep going until I crash. I’ll survive without much sleep for weeks and become productive in ways you don’t think I can. I’ll feel like, and perhaps claim that, I can do anything.

When my medications are right and I’m doing well, I’m pretty even-tempered. I can laugh, cry, and feel much of what ‘normal’ people can. There’s a limit, though. I can’t find that elation that used to make me do leprechaun leaps on the sidewalk. I can’t feel the deep sorrow appropriate in tragic situations. The intensity of those emotions is dampened. It’s probably for the best. Feeling intensely up or down, even fleetingly, may be enough to trigger a coinciding episode. No matter how good the cocktail of drugs is, it can’t prevent episodes being triggered.

Sometimes I’ll be tired all the time for no reason. Sleeping 9 or more hours a day. Feeling unmotivated when I’m alone. I’ll have to be like this for a while before I notice that it’s happening. I’ll skip work. Or volunteering. Or social events. Yet often, to everyone else I seem fine. Sometimes someone will tell me how I appear, and I might listen. Sometimes they’ll ask me if I’m okay. I’ll brush it off the first 700 times. Keep asking if my behavior doesn’t change or gets worse. Please keep asking until I realize and open up. If I catch myself here and get a medication change to help, I can recover fairly quickly from the slight depression. By fairly quickly, I mean a month or two. If this goes unchecked, it will only get worse.

I’ll stop showering. I’ll stay home from everything. I’ll stop reading, knitting, playing with the pets, talking to people, listening to music, and doing anything that makes me feel good. I’ll skip cooking and only eat things I can eat straight out of the cabinet or fridge. I’ll stop going to bed and just sleep on the couch night after night, or day after day. Or I’ll stop getting out of bed and just spend all day, every day, in bed. I’ll think about how I’m a drain on everyone I know, that no one would really want to be associated with me if they knew who I really am. I’ll see my existence as a negative splotch on the Earth. I’ll consider different ways of dying. Ways to make it look accidental. Ways to be sure it won’t fail. Absurd ways that might at least make people laugh. Devastating ways to make other people understand the pain I feel every day. If I feel this bad, why shouldn’t everyone? I’ll hate myself, my life, and everything in existence. Ultimately, after contemplating all of this, I’ll be too depressed to kill myself. Suicide would be too much effort. But I’ll stop doing everything, so if left alone I’ll die of starvation or be forced into some sort of action. Luckily, I have people around me forcing me to stay alive when I’m in this state. As much as I may hate them when they’re doing that job.

I must keep tabs on my emotional state every day. Morning and night. Checking in with myself. Others asking about how I’m doing. If I notice something, keeping mental track of whether it continues (and for how long) or whether it changes. Trying to pinpoint a cause or trigger for a change. Trying to notice if there’s a pattern. If something is getting better. Or worse. Trying to figure out how to fix it. This takes up so much time. And sometimes the mental effort is overwhelming. And I want to do anything other than think about my mental state.

These states have cost me jobs. I’ve been fired and walked off jobs more than I can count. I’ve quit classes. I’ve lost friends because I say no too much. I’ve lost friends because they can’t take the rollercoaster. I don’t blame them.

The cycle happens. Treatment is reactive. It will keep happening. Coming out of a depression I won’t realize I’m getting better and keep taking the same meds. Then I’ll start heading into mania. And at first it feels good, so I won’t do anything about it. Sometimes it’ll break on its own. Sometimes it’ll escalate and send me into a full-blown episode. Then my meds change, and I’ll come down to normal. Maybe adjust my meds again. Then a trigger. Or the meds are heavy on downers and not heavy enough on antidepressants. And down I’ll go, into the deep tunnel of depression. And round and round we go. I’ll quit another job. And get fired from another. I’ll burn bridges like no tomorrow. Yet I will try oh so hard to keep those bridges intact. And balancing all of this becomes a full-time job. And it follows me around. It’s not something I can leave in the office. And then there are all the psychiatrist visits and the therapy sessions. And sorting through causes, learning to deal with them, learning new coping methods, creating new coping methods.

I think the biggest falsehood I have believed about it is that it can be controlled. That if I just learn enough techniques to cope and keep my medicine right, I’ll never have an episode again. But that’s not how it works. Again, treatment is reactive. And living with this is a full-time job. Everything else is a hobby. Maybe someday dealing with bipolar disorder will be a part-time job.

Maybe.

Someday.

Book Marks: Mental Health Edition

Anthony Bourdain was so much more than a chef; he was also an amazing writer and story-teller.

Kate Spade may be remembered as mainly a fashion designer and lifestyle brand, but she also published some books.

Ten new books regarding mental illness to read.

Books with characters who realistically show what it is like to suffer from mental illness.

Yes, you can suffer from depression and still be funny.

Writing when you have depression and anxiety.

Eight writers who battled depression.

Creative people may be more prone to mental health issues.

Four simple tips on how to write about characters with depression.

Book reviews on mental health issues written by yours truly, Bookish Jen.

 

Book Review: And Then I Am Gone-A Walk with Thoreau by Mathias B Freese

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There is one thing people realize once they come to their “twilight” years. They have more of a past than a future. This is a time when they often take stock of their lives – good, the bad and the ugly. Writer, teacher and psychotherapist Mathias B. Freese is one these people, and now he shares his journey in his thoughtful memoir And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau.

Thoreau, of course is Henry David Thoreau author of the classic Walden Pond, which many of us probably read back in high school. For Freese, Thoreau is a muse who guides him during his journey of self-examination. Ultimately Freese is asking himself, not the cliché “What is the meaning of life?” but “What is the meaning of my life.”

And Then I Am Gone is divided into two parts. Part one sets up the tone for the book and provides several chapters focusing on moving to Alabama, finding happiness with Nina, a past love affair, his relationship with his children and his own childhood, his thoughts on Trump, writer Norman Mailer, the movie Citizen Kane, and Thoreau as therapy. Part two focuses on Freese’s new life in a new home, his journey with Thoreau and coming to grips with his own mortality.

Born and bred in New York City, Freese is a secular Jewish man now living in Alabama with his southern belle, Nina, an Irish-American Roman Catholic. Not surprisingly, Freese finds country life below the Mason-Dixon line a complete cultural shock and often has difficulty navigating a world so different from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, it does force him to come to grips with his past. Freese has had success with his professional life, but his personal life was often in shambles. Childhood was difficult with a mother suffering with mental illness. Freese has been married and divorced a few times, and is also estranged from his daughter but is closer to his son Jordan.

Okay, Thoreau. Just what is life all about, hmm? Freese wants to know, You wrote a damn book about it. Surely you’ve got the goods. Now pony up!

Freese has questions and Thoreau provides answers, which often leads to Freese having more questions. Needless, say this can be quite maddening, which often leaves Freese feeling downright pessimistic.

But as I kept reading And Then I Am Gone, I thought to myself. Well, maybe we’re not always meant to have all the answers to our questions after we ask them, whether we ask Thoreau, our best friend, a therapist, our horoscope or a stranger on the street. At times those answers will leave us not exactly happy or more confused than before. Or sometimes we will find clear, concise advice or wise counsel in a time of confusion (especially in one of the most messed times in our nation’s history).

I found Freese’s book to be a true inspiration as I go through my own journey of self-exploration and after year of great difficulty, self-care. There are times I look for answers and feel nothing but despair and at times I feel true joy. We’re not supposed to solve the mysteries life and just accept things are going to be murky. At times we live life to the fullest and at times we are slackers on the couch. we should just live our lives the best we can before we are shuttled off this mortal coil.

I also appreciated Freese’s vivid style of writing. He can be a curmudgeon but he’s also wise, funny, a true storyteller. And Then I Am Gone is a treasure of a book.

Now if only I had kept that copy of Walden’s Pond….

 

 

Book Review: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

reasons-to-stay-aliveAfter reading Melissa Broder’s TMI memoir, So Sad Today, I really wasn’t up to reading another memoir, especially one dealing with the thorny topic of depression and other mental illnesses. Then I came across British author Matt Haig’s book Reasons to Stay Alive while browsing the stacks at my local library. I read the book jacket and decided to check Haig’s book out…

…and I’m glad I did. Reasons to Stay Alive might be one of the most important books I have ever read on the issue of depression and mental illness, and one I am happy to share with my readers.

On the surface, Haig has a pretty ideal life. His parents are kind, compassionate and loving. His girlfriend (now wife) Andrea sounds like a delightful woman, one who chose to stick by Haig through even his darkest moments of  mental terror. Haig is educated, well-traveled, good-looking and a successful author. What does he have to be depressed about?

Well, often depression has no reason to exist; it just does. And sometimes there are reasons why people are depressed, which is something Haig also describes in Reasons to Stay Alive. But Reasons to Stay Alive is Haig’s story and it is painful to read at times. I often had to put the book down because at times I related to Haig way too much and have the dried up tears to prove it, and because I felt so much empathy for his struggles.

For Haig, depression was just something that was thrust upon him, almost like being an innocent victim of a violent crime. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why he felt the way he did. Even everyday activities from getting out of bed to doing basic ever day tasks were too much to handle. For a moment, Haig considered committing suicide while vacationing in Ibiza.

I’m just glad he never took that final step.

From these suicidal thoughts to writing Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig chronicles his struggles with depression with clarity that both chills and helps the reader gain insight on the cruelty of depression and how it not only affects the sufferer but those who live with the sufferer.

Haig writes about his anxiety and panic attacks. He is fully honest in how depression affected him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He goes through a whole alphabet of emotions—sadness, rage, hopelessness, apathy, frustration, terror and other assorted less than ideal feelings. But he also writes of the glimmers of hope he gained and he acknowledged his suffering and went on a very difficult journey of recovery. And he does it without self-pity, psychobabble or being a self-absorbed narcissistic curator of TMI.

In Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig fully explains why depression is so misunderstood (even by those who suffer from it). With depression, one’s pain is invisible. You wonder what suffering from depressions says about you. You wonder why you can’t get out of bed and stop crying. You worry tomorrow will be worse than today and beat yourself up for not being like everybody else.

Haig also describes certain aspects that some people with depression suffer from, including fatigue, low-self-esteem, irritability, crying jags, moving and speaking at a slower pace, and inability to experience pleasure.

Haig tells the readers that people with depression are not alone. And he names several notable figures who suffered from depression including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, and Buzz Aldrin. Creative types also suffer from depression. These people include Halle Berry, Jon Hamm, Billy Joel, Emma Thompson and Tennessee Williams. Even the ever bubbly ray of sunshine, Dolly Parton, has issues with depression!

However, Haig leaves us hopeful, sharing both his journey and the journey of others. Reasons to Stay Alive, which include everything from kissing (yes, to lots and lots of kissing) and reading books (yes, to lots and lots of books). Ultimately, he shares with us 40 pieces how to not only live but thrive while dealing with depression and also offers names of books that may help those suffer from depression that can probably be found at your local library, on-line and at your favorite bookstore.

Reasons to Stay Alive is at times hard to read; dealing with my own depression is bad enough. But I am eternally grateful for Matt Haig and his valuable book. Reasons to Stay Alive should be read not just by those suffering from depression, but those who love someone with depression. Actually, Reasons to Stay Alive should be read by everyone!

 

Book Review: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

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I initially picked up Melissa Broder’s book So Sad Today because like me, Ms.  Broder suffers from depression, and I’m always interested in how other people with depression deal with this very misunderstood ailment. Even further, Roxane “Bad Feminist” Gay gave So Sad Today a very positive review. I value Gay’s judgment so I started this book with a great deal of enthusiasm.

And this enthusiasm quickly evaporated from the moment I read the first chapter of So Sad Today, “How to Never Be Enough,” in which New York-based Broder, went into great length her mother’s difficulty in breastfeeding Broder to Broder’s fondness of eating her boogers.

And from there So Sad Today became a den of shock and vulgarity detailing every stomach-turning aspects of Broder’s life (like her mad fetish for vomit) from her childhood turmoil to her very open marriage, and then some. Clearly other people’s struggles with depression are vastly different than mine and everybody has their freaky-deaky kinks and quirks. I’m not completely without empathy and I’m certainly not close-minded when it comes to other people’s idiosyncrasies. We all have them…

Furthermore, I’m now questioning Gay’s particular taste in literature.

But let us proceed further into the madcap adventures of Melissa…

In another chapter, named “Love Like You Are Trying to Fill an Insatiable Spiritual Hole with Another Person Who Will Suffocate in There”-or as I like to call it “Sexting for Crummies,” Broder shares sexually-graphic texts between herself and a total stranger that are so horrific my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets. I am no prude; I have read my share of erotica and once wrote an article about sex toys. But these sexts had all the erotic lure of a Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich gang bang. Sorry, but I just have to share a few of sexts between Broder and this up-standing feller:

Him: “I want to fuck you in an air duct, flattened out with our whole bodies touching, at first slow and careful, then really hard until I come in you and the bottom of the duct falls out and we into a boardroom meeting at Walmart, like into a bucket of fondue.”

Broder later sexts to this charming lad: “I want u to take a picture of yr cum on the screenshot of ‘Melissa Broder likes this’ and send it to me, and I want it signed by the cummer.”

Hmm, who says romance is dead?

But wait! There’s more! In chapter, Broder tells you about every dimension of her lady parts, including one labia is slightly longer than the other. Hmm, you don’t say? After reading this I do believe I could pick out Melissa’s yoni out of a line up (hmm, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write).

Throughout the book Melissa waxes on about eating disorders, suffering from anxiety, musings on gender differences like men want sex and women want love, more bodily function gross-outs and a very graphic exchange about getting a “vaginal massage” from an older man. Of her bat mitzvah, Broder muses, “I had this weird intuition that if I could just make it to my Bat Mitzvah I could both prevent the Holocaust from happening again and also get all my friends back.”

Gee, during my first communion I mused, “I wish I could dip this bland Body of Christ into some guacamole and end the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.”

But just as I was getting ready to toss this book, Broder gets very real and touched me as a reader that made me feel tender towards her, not tetchy. In the chapter, “I Told You Not to Get the Knish: Thoughts on Open Marriage and Illness,” Broder discusses her open marriage with her husband (who she refers to as Ron Jeremy). In their open marriage, Broder and Mr. Ron Jeremy agree they may have sex with other partners as long as they remain casual and don’t turn these encounters into full-fledged affairs, and for the most part, an open marriage works for both of them.

And in this chapter, also Broder discusses in heartbreaking detail Mr. Ron Jeremy’s very serious and debilitating disease and how it affects their marriage. Broder’s commitment to her husband is both challenging and proves she is capable of deep caring and compassion. I really wish she would have devoted her memoir on this aspect of her life and her fierce love and commitment to her husband.

Broder is a fairly decent writer and possibly a very nice person in real life. Apparently So Sad Today started out as an anonymous Twitter feed, which later turned into this very book. Broder claims to be very self-conscious, riddled with anxiety and constantly wonders what people think of her, so it’s baffling why she’d be so open to such extremes via her book. But then again, in a world where people get famous by doing a sex tape, opine about the most private moments in their social media and Instagram their butts, I should probably not be surprised Broder probably thought TMI was the quickest way to get published. Sure, more may be less, but in 2016 more is MORE and the fast track to fame and notoriety.