My hair woes

Strands of my hair accumulate on my bathroom counter, on the floor, on the window sill, in the sink, on my clothes, stuck on my toiletries bottles, and sometimes even in my toothbrush and in my mouth. But, it is most visible on my brush every time it touches my diminishing head of hair. Many years ago, while traveling in Europe I noticed my hair was shedding quite a bit. I went to the pharmacy in the town we were visiting, and the pharmacist recommended biotin. Biotin seemed to work then. It also helped grow and strengthen my finger nails. I’ve been taking that vitamin product ever since. Is stress the cause of hair shedding? Then about three years ago I noticed another bout of shedding hair. It looked like my brush had more hair on it after I dried it. I asked my dermatologist for advice, and her first question was: did I have a particularly stressful experience nine months before. My answer was a definite yes. She recommended women’s Rogaine 5% foam. She didn’t have much … [Read more...]

Fiction: another way to erase stigma

My guest today, Joanell Serra, explores the idea of reducing the stigma of mental illness by openly describing the mental illnesses fictional characters experience. That is to say, being open and communicative about mental illness in fiction and/or real life helps reduce stigma and paves the way to recovery rather than hiding some pretty grotesque characters in corners as was done to Miss Havisham, in Charles Dickens Great Expectations. With that in mind it is easy to understand that the characters in her debut novel, The Vines We Planted, are deeply portrayed and very well written so that they can work through the many emotional and challenging issues they encounter in her book. Please help me welcome Joanell Serra during her WOW! Women on Writing book tour. Can we reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness through fiction? by Joanell Serra When we think of characters with mental illness in fiction, there are many extreme examples to choose from: Billy Pilgrim from V … [Read more...]

What else is happening in May?

This month is full of happenings, especially family ones. May 4 would have been my brother-in-law’s 79th birthday. Today would have been my dad’s 115th birthday though he only lived to be 72. They both died of cancer. Of course, next Sunday, May 13, is Mother’s Day, though I also commemorated Bereaved Mother’s Day yesterday, in memory of our son Paul who left us almost 19 years ago. And after that is my birthday on May 20, and Bob and my 48th anniversary on May 28. … [Read more...]

May is mental health month

I've written extensively about mental health and my mission to erase its stigma in blog posts and essays for my own and other websites. I'm also written about my son's mental illness that ended in his suicide in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Today I'd like to leave you with a list of some agencies that provide mental health and suicide prevention services. I've also pulled a passage out of my memoir to share with you - a scene with our son at a restaurant in New York City where my husband and I observed his clearly irrational behavior. We were so distressed at what we saw we plotted to get him into the hospital to be diagnosed and treated for the first (of many) times. I urge anyone who has a similar experience to get help as fast as possible. Some Helpful Agencies American Foundation for Suicide Prevention bringchange2mind Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services … [Read more...]

Renee Antonia writes about learning to breathe

I am pleased to welcome Renee Antonia here at Choices. She's participating in a WOW! Women on Writing tour of her book, I'm Not Okay. Renee has written a sensitive and meaningful guest post about her struggle with anxiety and how she found a community of people going through the same thing that helped her through. With mental illness it's always best to communicate our stories. That provides a two-fold benefit: it helps erase stigma and helps us understand and rid ourselves of the demons that plague us. Thank you for telling us your story about overcoming your demons.   Learning to Breathe While You’re Drowning By Renee Antonia There are many times throughout my busy work week that I realize I haven’t stopped to take a breath.  Between working, writing, friends, and family I forget to breathe. After one of these realizations, I stopped and asked myself why?  Why do I work myself so hard that I forget to stop and take a breath?  To embrace and enjoy what I have?  To be … [Read more...]

How I created my book and got it published

I belong to a writing organization called  Independent Writers of Southern California. We meet locally in a  small satellite group once a month, and this last month our leader asked me to speak about how I got my memoir published. Here are my notes from that talk. Even though writing is a lonely business, a village of resources helped and nurtured me from the time I started writing my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. I started with journaling, at first sporadically and later, after reading and doing the exercises in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Putnam’s Sons, 1992), I kept my fingers moving across the pages of my journal every day. I still do. After amassing about three years’ worth of journal entries I began to think about turning them into a book – a book very much different from the one that was eventually published. But, I was not a creative writer. My writing experience consisted of writing, editing, and training engineers to produce reports and proposals in the aeros … [Read more...]

Yes! Dogs can help improve our health

Not being a pet owner myself, I was very intrigued to learn about the ability of dogs to help improve our physical and mental health. Thank you, Brandon Butler, for introducing me to these special qualities. Please go to Brandon's website to find out more. How Dogs Improve Our Health by Brandon Butler Photo credit by Pexels Dog owners have told us for years that their pets are more than just companions. Who hasn’t heard the story of a dog that has saved someone emotionally? But is it true? It turns out that even science supports the theory that dogs can improve your mental, physical, and social health. The Physical Health Benefits of Dogs We don’t commonly think of dogs as being beneficial to our physical bodies, but they can be. Here are a few ways how: Dogs require daily walking and exercise and that means you need to walk with them. You’ll be building muscle as you learn to control your dog and getting exercise along your walk. That daily walk can frequently … [Read more...]

Can grief be contagious?

I met Martha Clark Scala at one of the first Esalen Institute workshops I took after our son died by suicide. And it was in that workshop where I found my voice in poetry. "Aftermath," the simple poem I wrote resonated such with Martha, that she wrote the following piece about her brother's death. The poem and the article both appeared first in the Summer 2001 issue of "We Need Not Walk Alone," published by The Compassionate Friends, an organization that provides friendship, understanding, and hope to those going through the natural grieving process. Martha and I have been friends ever since. I’m Not Contagious By Martha Clark Scala​ In the two or three weeks immediately following my brother Nick’s death, I received numerous calls, cards, plants, flowers, and offers of help. My loss sat on the front burner of many wonderful people’s stoves for about 21 days. I was in their thoughts, prayers, and blessings. Unfortunately, many issues and events vie for front-burner status … [Read more...]

Another pitch about journaling

One of my friends who is still working full time shared with me her desire to do something besides work - something creative. I suggested classes at our El Camino Community College and the South Bay Adult School maybe in jewelry making or to learn a new language. But she said she’d like to get into writing. I asked her if she journaled. With that she pushed herself away from the table and leaned her body against the back of her chair, like she was physically moving away from that subject. After a long pause, she told me she couldn’t write down anything private for fear of it getting into the wrong hands. Of course, that’s a common fear amongst those of us who journal, but it hasn’t stopped me. When I first started journaling regularly back in 1993, I wrote in notebooks – the finer the better. I especially love the ones I bought in France and later found at Banner Stationer’s in El Segundo, CA by Clairefontaine. The pages are very thick and slick and don’t show through to the b … [Read more...]

I’m celebrating National Poetry Month. Are you?

National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture. I'm fully involved in the celebration in several ways: Writing a poem a day to Robert Lee Brewer's prompt. He's the poetry edition at Writer's Digest and has been holding poem a day challenges in April and November for years. I just wrote to his fourth day prompt a few minutes ago. Please join me. It's not too late to catch up. (Robert also gives us prompts every Wednesday the rest of the year.) Reading a book a poetry. Currently I'm reading Yevgeny Yevtushenko's little book of selected poems. I had the book in my library several years ago, but it disappeared. So I bought a new copy and am thoroughly loving rereading his poems. He writes vividly - without any flowery words or des … [Read more...]

A journey out of the darkness and into the light

I was very interested in having Sebastian Slovin appear here today. He has a story to tell about what he learned from his father's suicide, just as I had a story to tell about what I learned from my son's suicide. We are definitely kindred spirits even though our experiences were quite different. However, one thing is certain. Suicide is a death different from all others, and it leaves the survivors broken, guilty, and always searching for answers to "why?" Mr. Slovin appears here courtesy of the WOW! Women on Writing virtual book tour of his memoir Ashes in the Ocean, published in March 2018 by Nature Unplugged. About Ashes in the Ocean Vernon Slovin was a legend. He was one of the best swimmers in his home country of South Africa, and for a time in the world. He prided himself on being the best. The best in sports, business, and life. He had it all, a big home, athletic prestige, fancy clothes and cars, and a beautiful wife and family. Everything was going his way … [Read more...]

Writing in the Dominican Republic

I met Lindsay de Feliz, author of What About Your Saucepans? and Life After My Saucepans, through a wonderful Facebook group called We Love Memoirs, and it was instant admiration. Her story is gutsy, heroic, and so, so different from my own that I had to share it with you. When I asked her to be a Choices guest she immediately said yes, and within a few days she sent me a story about her writing life in the Dominican Republic. My Writing Life in the Dominican Republic – Every Cloud has a Silver Lining by Lindsay de Feliz I was not a writer when I arrived in the Dominican Republic in 2001; I was a scuba diving instructor. I used to write a long email once a month to around 100 friends and family and often they would say you should write a book, but I didn’t think about it until I was shot in 2006 and was no longer able to work in diving. I was shot at 10.30 at night, and I remembered the first 15 minutes but then had no recollection of anything for around 6 hours, although I am told I … [Read more...]

Where was this when I needed it?

As I finish my tenth and last draft of my novel, I've come across this Checklist for Authors. I don't know how it came to me, but I do know it's a product of WritersWrite, a site that is all about writing and writing advice. Check it out. I know I will the next time I write a book. And, you know, in going through this list again, I think I've covered most everything on the checklist already - especially Number 21: Have I rewritten my novel at least five times? I guess I'm in good shape to stop at ten. … [Read more...]

Equal Means Equal invites you!

Please join the movement to finally ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Attend the screening of Equal Means Equal, a documentary by Kamala Lopez, next Monday night in El Segundo California and find out how you can get involved.  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, says: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex; it seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. The amendment was introduced in Congress for the first time in 1921 and has prompted conversations about the meaning of equality for women and men. In the early history of the Equal Rights Amendment, middle-class women were largely supportive, while those speaking for the working class were often opposed, pointing out that employed women needed special protections regardin … [Read more...]

Missing Sherman

My beloved cousin Sherman died yesterday as a result of a massive stroke. The shock of it, the fact that he is no longer with us, and the sadness I feel are overwhelming. We grew up together in Chicago though he was five years older than I. That age difference didn't matter. He was always caring and loving toward me. One of my early memories of him was at his Bar Mitzvah party. My dad was the master of ceremonies and he asked me to read a poem about Sherman as part of the program. I wish I remembered the poem or had a copy of it. I'd like to read it now. Instead I'll share the loving words his daughter put up on Facebook yesterday. It says it all: I am beyond heartbroken to share that my beautiful dad passed away this morning in my arms and those of my mom. There are truly no words to describe how kind, positive, caring, smart and generous he was. He reached out to everyone around him and always had a beautiful twinkle in his eyes. He loved to learn and made more of a … [Read more...]

I’ve become a revision fiend

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But I need to tell it to you again. Book revision and editing will be harder and will take longer than the actual writing of your book. So be prepared to stay with it for the long haul before you start. In other words: Make the Decision to Do the Hard Work Before You Start to Write a Book. Here’s a true story. After I wrote the first draft of my memoir I hired an editor who helped me prepare it for submittal to interested agents and presses. This took about a year. Then once I had a book contract, my publisher requested an enormous amount of revisions to that draft. So I spent another six months revising and editing my manuscript with the help of three writing friends who checked my work for repetition, inconsistencies, chapter organization, wording, and typos. Afterward, the publisher’s editor worked another month doing a final review and edit before producing the first hardback edition. After my memoir’s release in May 2011 many readers inf … [Read more...]

My memoir still has legs

Three Things: My memoir got its 223rd review on Amazon today. On Saturday 10 am I'll be on a memoir-writing panel called Thanks for the Memories at the Genre-LA writers conference at the Los Angeles Valley College. Sunday I'll be online all day at We Love Memoirs Sunday Spotlight. I actually thought I'd be done with book marketing a year after the memoir was published. Was I wrong! It seems that this book keeps re-emerging and providing inspiration for would-be memoir writers or the right words of encouragement for those also affected by mental illness and suicide. I feel so grateful for that. Here is its latest five-star review from Lindsay De Felix: on Amazon for Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. This is a very hard book for me to write a review on. It is about a subject which I have no knowledge of – a bipolar son who commits suicide. I don’t know anyone well who suffers from bip … [Read more...]

Writing quotes to stave off writers block

I love quotes. I collect them and then use them appropriately in my writing. So I really resonated with the  Writer's Digest article in 2012, when journalist Zachary Petit shared his list of favorite quotes. He called it a good resource to use at times when the writing work doesn't automatically come. I'll share a portion of Petit's list here, and perhaps update it again from time to time. I always keep this URL handy for times of need. Please send me your favorite writing quotes too - especially from new writers who have come into our  lives since this list was compiled. I'll put them up here too. “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” —Philip Roth “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” —Stephen King “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” —Allen Ginsberg, WD “Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” —Willi … [Read more...]

How journaling helped B. Lynn Goodwin decide to marry at age 62

B. Lynn Goodwin used her journals as the foundation of her memoir, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62. Well, I have to say I did the same when I started my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. I had pages and pages of journal entries that I meticulously copied from my handwritten notebooks to computer Word files, and my book was off and running. For me, writing in my journals helped me heal after losing my son too suicide. For B. Lynn Goodwin, journal writing helped her to decide whether to jump into a marriage with a two-time widower at age 62. We both agree that journaling is like having a secret friend that we can trust with anything in our minds and hearts. Here is B. Lynn Goodwin and her thoughts about the benefits of journaling for her. Need a Venting Partner? Try a Journal by B. Lynn Goodwin When I was dating Richard, I had crazy thoughts running through my head. What did I know about love or commitment or becoming a wife? I didn’t even tell my friends about him at fi … [Read more...]

Now, there’s a poem

If you've been here a time or two, you know I’ve always believed there is a poem out there everywhere. So many of my ideas for poems come from people I see and places I go that I’m really never at a loss for something to write about. I’m constantly saying, “Now, there’s a poem.” Still I like to work with prompts. I keep a list of them that I get from the Writer’s Digest’s poetry editor, Robert Lee Brewer and his Poetic Asides blog. He posts a prompt every Wednesday. Sometimes he’ll combine it with a request that we write in a specific poetry form, e.g., Haiku, Nonet, Luc Bat, Tanka, Ekphrastic, Quatern, Tritina. So I get a prompt, but a poetry lesson as well. Robert writes about things he knows and loves. The words are simple, homey, about his wife and children. I relate to that. He also conducts two poem-a-day challenges a year in April and November. I’ve participated for the last several years. At the end of the month he asks us to submit a chapbook of our best few poems … [Read more...]