Share Your World – February 13, 2017

Thanks to Cee for this week’s edition of Share Your World – February 13, 2017.

Do you sleep with your sheets tucked in or out?

Our sheets are tucked in at the foot of the bed but untucked at the sides. I’ve never even considering tucking them in on the sides, as that would make me feel much too constricted. Also, you can’t kick part or all of the covers off during the night if they’re all tucked in.

Now this question has got me wondering about the origin of the phrase “tuck you in at night.”

Have you stolen a street sign before?

No, but I’ve known a couple of people who have. When I was in college a friend of mine had a last name that is also a common male first name. When she and her boyfriend came across a house with a sign declaring that the resident’s name combined their two last names, they swiped it.

Do you cut out coupons but then never use them?

When I was younger, I was a devoted coupon cutter-outer, and I almost always used those coupons. However, for the last many, many years I have thought cutting out coupons was not worth the time and effort.

Do you have freckles?

No.

Optional Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week we had some sun, as pictured in the feature photo above. I’m grateful for that, because this week we’re back to rain.

I hope you all enjoy this week!

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Share Your World – February 6, 2017

Thanks to Cee for this week’s challenge Share Your World – February 6, 2017.

Regarding your fridge, is it organized or a mess inside?

Our fridge might look messy to other people, but we know where everything is.

Do you prefer your food separated or mixed together?

I prefer having the different foods separated on my plate, but I eat randomly.

Do you prefer reading coffee table books (picture), biographies, fiction, non-fiction, educational?

Yes. All of the above. However, I usually read only one book at a time.

Close your eyes. Listen to your body. What part of your body is seeking attention? What is it telling you?

The muscles around my left shoulder blade are tight. This is not unusual, as all my tension seems to land there.

Optional Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week we had dinner with our daughter to take advantage of a nearby restaurant’s lobster special. Next week, on Monday, we are meeting our daughter for lunch. It doesn’t get much better than this: family and food.

Enjoy your week, everyone!

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Memoir Review: “Brain on Fire”

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Free Press, 2012
ISBN 978–1–4516–2137–2

Highly Recommended

One day in 2009 Susannah Cahalan woke up in a hospital room, strapped to her bed, unable to speak, move, or remember how she got there. As she stared at an orange band around her wrist, the words FLIGHT RISK came into focus.

Cahalan’s journey to that hospital room had begun weeks earlier. Out of nowhere she began having paranoid thoughts; for example, with no evidence she suddenly believed that her boyfriend was cheating on her, and the voice in her head nearly overpowered her: Read his e-mails. The paranoia was rapidly followed by other symptoms: slurred speech, over-reaction to colors and sounds, nausea, insomnia, wild mood swings, uncontrollable crying, lack of focus, inability to write, facial tics, drooling, involuntary muscle movements, and seizures.

Physical examinations and extensive medical tests revealed no discernible cause for her symptoms. Various doctors prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-seizure medications and used phrases ranging from all in her head to psychotic break as Calahan’s family and friends watched her condition continue to worsen. Finally, a new neurologist, Dr. Souhel Najjar, joined the medical team and did one more medical test that saved her life. Dr. Najjar tested Cahalan for a newly discovered, rare autoimmune disease that causes the body to react against the brain. The disease causes inflammation that Dr. Nijjar explained this way: “Her brain is on fire.”

This book differs from most memoirs in that Cahalan has almost no memories of what happened to her during the period she writes about. Her father, who spent most days in her hospital room, kept a personal diary of the ordeal (hers and his own). In addition, her father and mother left a notebook in her room in which both documented what had gone on during their visits; the purpose of this notebook was to keep both parents informed about their daughter’s condition. Cahalan used these two documents, her medical records, and interviews with family, friends, work colleagues, and medical personnel as the basis for the book. Her journalism background enabled her to do the extensive research necessary to supplement those sources.

Despite the absence of her own memories, Cahalan maintains the focus on personal experience that’s necessary in memoir. When she can’t focus on her own experiences, she frames the story with the experiences of the people close to her: her parents, her boyfriend, her friends, and her colleagues at the New York Post.

Cahalan excels at describing complex, arcane medical material for a general reader. Here, for example, is her description of how memory works:

My short-term memory had been obliterated, a problem usually rooted in the hippocampus, which is like a way station for new memories. The hippocampus briefly “stores” the patterns of neurons that make up a memory before passing them along to the parts of the brain responsible for preserving them long term. Memories are maintained by the areas of the brain responsible for the initial perception: a visual memory is saved by the visual cortex in the occipital lobe, an auditory memory by the auditory cortex of the temporal love, and so forth. (p. 101)

After Cahalan was successfully treated for her brain inflammation, there remained questions about how much of her former self, particularly her mental faculties, would return. This book, with its extensive research and clear writing, demonstrates that her brain is now back to functioning quite well.

Brain on Fire has been made into a movie that will come out on February 22, 2017. You can find information about the film, including a link to the official trailer, here.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Share Your World – January 30, 2017

Thanks to Cee for this week’s challenge Share Your World – January 30, 2017.

What is the most incredible natural venue that you’ve ever seen in person?

There are two:

  1. Mount Rainier
  2. the Pacific Ocean

Someday I hope to be able to add the Grand Canyon to this list.

How many siblings do you have? What’s your birth order?

I have two siblings from my mother’s second marriage, a brother 13 years younger than me and a sister 15 years younger.

If you were a shoe, what kind would you be and why?

This kind, purple and comfortable:

What is the strangest/weirdest thing you have ever eaten?

I honestly can’t think of anything to put down here, since my taste buds are pretty particular. I can’t eat spicy things at all. I don’t even use table pepper except for a slight sprinkling on fresh tomato slices.

Well, okay, the strangest thing I’ve eaten is a fried pickle spear. Pretty prosaic, I admit.

Optional Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

As always, I’m grateful for living through another week. This coming week promises several good things, including a trip to the local movie theater (the new theater, with recliners!) to see Hidden Figures.

Have a good week, everyone!

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

11 Memoirs by 20th-Century American Radicals | Literary Hub

With the Trump era now a week old and storm clouds gathering, many decent, salt-of-the-earth Americans not previously given to shows of popular unrest, never mind civil disobedience or outright vio…

Source: 11 Memoirs by 20th-Century American Radicals | Literary Hub

Share Your World – January 23, 2017

Thanks to Cee for this week’s challenge, Share Your World – January 23, 2017.

Do you prefer juice or fruit?

Usually I prefer eating whole fruit to drinking juice, with the one exception of orange juice. Juice often does not contain the fiber of the fruit and often does contain added sugar. However, I like smoothies made from pureeing whole fruit along with greens such as spinach and kale (heavier on the spinach than the kale).

Did you grow up in a small or big town? Did you like it?

I grew up in a fairly small town in New England. (It was a small town when I grew up there 60 years ago. Now it’s more suburban.) I liked living there while I was growing up because I didn’t know anything different. The best thing about that time was that my best friend lived just a bit up the road and we spent almost our free time together. But overall my childhood wasn’t happy. As I got older I couldn’t wait to move away because in a small time everybody knows your business—and your family’s business for at least a couple of generations back. When I finally went away to college, I knew that I’d never live in that town again, even though some of my family continues to this day to live nearby.

If you were to paint a picture of your childhood, what colors would you use?

I’d just cover the entire canvas with the same shade of light gray, for the same reason as my desire to move out of my childhood home town.

Ways to Relax List: Make a list of what relaxes you and helps you feel calm.

  • taking a walk outdoors
  • seeing Mount Rainier when the weather is clear
  • visiting a beach and watching the waves roll in
  • reading a good book, usually a novel, while drinking a cup of coffee or tea
  • watching a good TV show (such as Gilmore Girls or This Is Us) or movie (such as Love Actually)

I hope everyone has a good week!

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Review: “H Is for Hawk”

Macdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk
Grove Press, 2014
ISBN: 978–0–8021–2341–1

Highly Recommended

When Helen Macdonald’s father died unexpectedly, she was nearly overcome with grief. She cancelled an upcoming teaching assignment and struggled to find a way to reconnect with the world. An experienced falconer, she decided to fill her days by training a goshawk, the wildest, fiercest, most difficult to train bird of prey.

Macdonald had trained other hawks, but never a goshawk. She knew well the literature of falconry and followed The Goshawk, by T.H. White (well known author of The Once and Future King, a tome of Arthurian legend), as she progressed through her own training program. White’s book is a narrative about his experiences trying—and failing—to train a goshawk during the mid 1930s (although the book was not published until 1951). The comparison between her progress and White’s lack of progress in the difficult task of training a goshawk provides the underlying structure of Macdonald’s book.

Macdonald obtained a female goshawk, whom she soon named Mabel. As Macdonald became acquainted with Mabel, she realized “without knowing why, I’d chosen to be the hawk” (p. 58). Her identification with Mabel became stronger as the training progressed:

I was in ruins. Some deep part of me was trying to rebuild itself, and its model was right there on my fist. The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life”(p. 85)

The hawk became a symbol “of things that must be mastered and tamed” (p. 113).

As she trained Mabel, Macdonald read about White’s fits and starts with his goshawk. In her book she examines White’s approach to training for clues about the mind of this brilliant yet troubled man, whose unhappy childhood underlay life-long insecurity and difficulty fitting into the world. Implicit in Macdonald’s process of understanding White through his book is the realization that readers will understand Macdonald, just as she comes to understand herself, through hers.

H Is for Hawk contains that necessary ingredient of a good memoir, an epiphany—something missing from many memoirs, such as the much over-hyped Wild. Macdonald’s epiphany begins with this realization: “Hunting with the hawk took me to the very edge of being a human. Then it took me past that place to somewhere I wasn’t human at all” (p. 195). She knew that she had wanted to slip onto the wild world of the forest with the hawk:

part of me had hoped, too, that somewhere in that other world was my father. His death had been so sudden. There had been no time to prepare for it, no sense in it happening at all. He could only be lost. He was out there, still, somewhere out there in that tangled wood with all the rest of the lost and dead. I know now what those dreams in spring had meant, the ones of a hawk slipping through a rent in the air into another world. I’d wanted to fly with the hawk to find my father; find him and bring him home (p. 220)

In the end she realized that she couldn’t overcome her grief by abandoning the human world to become a wild, feral hawk. Rather, she had to bring the lessons of the wild world back into the human sphere:

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are (p. 171)

The key to a memoir-worthy experience is not simply to endure, but to learn, to change, to grow.

Part of that growth is the ability to see new meaning in other aspects of the world. The broadly educated Macdonald fills her book with
details of the natural world: fields, flowers, bushes, trees, animals, rocks. Nature takes on new meaning because of the experience rendered in this moving and enriching memoir.

 

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

10 Memoirs That Explore the Mother-Daughter Relationship (in remembrance of Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher)

Shortly after the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds on subsequent days, Susan Dominus examined the strained relationship between this mother and daughter in the New York Times: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, a Mother-Daughter Act for the Ages. Dominus writes:

There is something about celebrity mother-daughter acts like the one lived by Ms. Fisher and Ms. Reynolds that capture the imagination in a way that famous father-sons simply do not.

I’d say we can leave out the words celebrity and famous. Even the most ordinary mother-daughter relationship is archetypal, fraught with push-pull, attract-repel, love-hate, bond-reject, up-down, engage-disengage, support-undermine dynamics.

The HBO documentary Bright Lights, first aired on January 7, 2017, further reveals the intertwining lives of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

And here are 10 memoirs that focus on the relationship between mothers and their daughters:

Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick

Returning to My Mother’s House by Gail Straub

Don’t Call Me Mother by Linda Joy Myers

The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr

Then Again by Diane Keaton

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Mother Daughter Me: A Memoir by Katie Hafner

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir by Jennifer Coburn

 

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Writing Your Way to Happiness

Here’s a summary of scientific research suggesting that “the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”

Special Report: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? The Magic of Narrative Medicine in the ED

The special report discusses how the use of storytelling in medicine, known as narrative medicine, helps physicians better serve patients.

The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking

Here’s a New Year’s challenge for the mind: Make this the year that you quiet all those negative thoughts swirling around your brain… . constant negativity can also get in the way of happiness, add to our stress and worry level and ultimately damage our health.

This article offers not only scientific research to back up its premise but practical steps you can take to deal effectively with your own negative thoughts.

3 Reasons You Don’t Need Experience to Write a Damn Good Story

The most common advice aspiring writers hear is “write what you know.” I’ve always been suspicious of this admonition, since I believe in the power of research. Here thriller writer Brad Taylor explains how to use research to write convincingly about topics you have no personal experience with.

Infant Brains Reveal How the Mind Gets Built

This article reports on recently published research into how the human brain develops, It’s a long but fascinating read.

 

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Share Your World – January 9, 2017

Share Your World – January 9, 2017

If you lost a bet and had to dye your hair a color of the rainbow for a week, what color would it be?

Right now I’d probably go with lime green, as the Seattle Seahawks are in the playoffs.

At any other time of the year, I’d probably go with purple because it’s my favorite color. I don’t know how I’d look with purple hair, but it couldn’t hurt to find out.

(This color would wash right out if I didn’t like it, right?)

If you could choose one word to focus on for 2017, what would it be?

Writing.

I’ve decided that 2017 is the year I actually focus on my writing instead of continuing to say, “Someday I’m going to devote the time and effort necessary to hone my writing skills and actually write some pieces worthy of being put out into the internet world.”

What was one thing you learned last year that you added to your life?

Never take friends for granted.

I really learned this lesson a long time ago, but last year it was reinforced for me a few times over.

If life was ‘just a bowl of cherries’… which fruit other than a cherry would you be..?

Pineapple, a delightful combination of sweet and tart (although I’d have to work hard on the sweet part).

Optional Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful for more of the same last week and am looking forward to more of the same next week.

And I hope everyone has a great upcoming week!

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown