An Open Book – May Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for starting off the #OpenBook link up this month. (Visit her original post here.) Now, let’s get started!

 

 

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Over the past week or so, I’ve been working on Lights Out in the Reptile House by Jim Shepard. I received a free electronic copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a review. The description there said that it was released last year, but I realized after starting the book that the original edition was published in 1990.

Lights Out in the Reptile House is a literary fiction coming of age tale set in an unnamed dystopian country in an undisclosed location. While the police state government pervades the background of 15-year-old Karel Roeder’s life, the story focuses more on the birth of his political awareness.

To be honest, it’s looking like it will get a two or three-star review from me at this point (I’m about 90% finished). The writing is excellent on a technical level, but the characters are very wooden and I’ve had a hard time connecting with them. Conversations are mostly summarized instead of written out, and while that is a valid technique, I don’t care for it as a reader. I feel like I’m watching a movie in a foreign language with the simplest of subtitles.  I also dislike dystopian novels in which the government system is largely ignored and unexplained; that seems to defeat the purpose of writing a dystopian work. But we’ll see–maybe the end will turn everything around for me.

 

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I am also revisiting the Harry Potter books via audio. I’m currently on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which is one of my least favorites in the series. It’s a nigredo-stage book, which in literary alchemy means the protagonist is going through a stage of dissolution. Harry has several horrible things happen to him right as he hits a stage of natural teenage gloominess and moody despair. It’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking to listen to. I can’t wait until it’s time to move on to Half-Blood Prince.

This is only the second “reading” I’ve done with the series, as I wasn’t formally introduced to the wizarding world until 2014, and I’m loving the opportunity to explore the intricacy of J.K. Rowling’s planning. I was aware of it beforehand, obviously, as it’s been the source of many an academic paper and literary discussion, and I noticed a lot of the foreshadowing as I made my way through the books the first time, but it’s interesting to see how even the tiniest details all point toward the end. If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks, you’re missing out on a treat. Jim Dale’s narration voice is a treasure.

Up Next

I’m going to spend this month (and the next, and probably the next) slowly whittling away at my entirely too long NetGalley queue. What I hope to read in May:

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen
A Stolen Kiss by Kelsey Keating
Dear Emma by Katie Heaney
The Syndicate by Sophie Davis
The Tried and True Tales of Phineas Ichabod Rate by McKenzie Ruth
Cold Calling by Russell Mardell
Fair Play by Tracy A. Ward
Dear Thing by Julie Cohen
Dreaming of Antigone by Robin Bridges
Undecided by Julianna Keyes
Lucky Me by Saba Kapur
Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell by Liane Shaw

Fifteen books in one month might seem a little ambitious, but since I’ll be dropping the responsibilities of school for a while starting tomorrow, I think I’ll be able to pull it off! Reading for class and finishing homework take up a lot of what used to be recreational reading time.


What are you reading?

 

Would you like to participate in An Open Book and share what are you reading?

The rules are simple:

  1. Include a link back to My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com somewhere in your post. Better yet, link to the week’s post.
  2. Link up your post.
  3. Use the hashtag #OpenBook on social media.
  4. Visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they are reading. Let’s build a community and expand our reading horizons.

Add your link by clicking the #OpenBook image below.

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#OpenBook is a monthly link-up each first Wednesday of the month. Check out the rules here.

You can sign up for an Open Book reminder email, which goes out one week before the link-up.

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Top 10 Results from One Week of Bodyweight Workouts

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I’ve never really been a bodyweight workout kind of person. Walking, aerobics, (attempting to do) Zumba: these are more my speed. But since I have so little time to exercise these days, I needed to find a way to fit an intense workout into a short amount of time–thirty minutes or less.

My husband talked me into downloading an app called FitStar Personal Trainer, which he’d been following for a couple of weeks. After taking an initial fitness test and inputting the usual information like height, weight, age, and sex, the app personalizes workouts tailored to your fitness level. Each workout takes you through a cycle of exercises, and you tell the app how well you did on each one.

I was skeptical, mostly because I am not in shape. I’d always assumed that bodyweight workouts like these were only for people who were already in somewhat decent shape. I was also nervous about the $40 yearly subscription fee, because I didn’t want to pay for something I didn’t end up using.

But something had to give, because my old exercise habits just weren’t working with my schedule anymore. So I did the fitness test, did the free sample workout, and bit the bullet.

I. Love. It. Here are my top 10 results and revelations from only one week of bodyweight workouts.

1. The human body adapts quickly. Within minutes, sometimes.

2. I packed on three pounds, but my clothes also started fitting better.

3. My balance has improved.

4. My energy levels are up.

5. I can go from sitting to standing without having to use my hands to push off.

6. My back doesn’t hurt anymore.

7. My flexibility is increased.

8. I can lift heavier objects with less exertion.

9. My joints ache less.

10. I have finally accepted that taking five minutes to stretch really does make a difference. Gym teachers don’t just make that stuff up.

I can’t wait to see the results I get after a few months on this regimen!

For more information on the FitStar Personal Trainer app, visit their website. 

Why I Write Mentally Ill Characters

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She grabbed her purse and fumbled around it desperately. Her hands were shaking so much she could barely control them, but her fingers finally closed over what she’d been looking for. She withdrew the small plastic bottle, removed the lid with a quick twist, and popped a tiny yellow circular pill into her mouth. She let it rest on her tongue for just a second before she swallowed and closed her eyes in gratitude, like a penitent receiving a communion wafer. The pill left a bitter taste on her tongue, but she didn’t care because she knew the unpleasant flavor heralded the arrival of chemical bliss. Her heart rate slowly but steadily lowered, and she found it easier to breathe.

When she opened her eyes, she found Cameron staring at her, the stubby piece of chalk dangling from his fingers and leaving smudges of powdery residue on his blue jeans. He didn’t look smug anymore. “You’re still dealing with that, then, huh?” he asked. His voice was soft and inviting, drawing her mind back to better times: a finger twirling through her shower-dampened hair, a copy of Herodotus’ Histories spread open across both their laps.

She shook her head. Now was not the time. “Sure am,” she said shortly. What else was there to say? She stuffed her midterm—the midterm she had failed—into her backpack and slung it over her shoulder, not bothering to zip it completely closed.

“Hattie.”

She looked up, and as their eyes met, she heard the question he hadn’t asked out loud. Who helps you with that now? She set her jaw in a firm line as she shot him a look. No one.

—The Partition of Africa 

 

A question I usually field at author events, signings, speaking engagements, and online communication is a simple one: “Why does Hattie have generalized anxiety disorder?”

This is not a bad question, especially considering that disorders like GAD don’t get much screen time, as it were, when it comes to contemporary YA and NA literature. If mental health is addressed, the author usually follows the somewhat familiar paths of depression, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. These are all important facets of mental illness that should we should all read about and try to understand.

But mental illness is more than those more extreme manifestations. It is more than someone being a danger to himself or others. Between the scope of “normal” and “dangerous” lies a whole host of problems that don’t seem to fit neatly into either category. The people who struggle here in this no man’s land often feel confused and alone, strung somewhere between just fine and falling apart.

People like me.


I’ve always been a worrier. Racing thoughts and infinite loops of “what ifs” have been my constant, unwelcome companion since childhood, riding my shoulder like a cartoon devil and whispering imagined calamitous possibilities into my soul. As a young child and teen, and even now sometimes as an adult, I find that the simplest hypotheticals can terrify me into a stupor.

As a child, I had no reason to question whether my mind behaved differently from those around me. Just as I took my nearsightedness in stride until about ten, when I casually asked my mother, “Why do we only see good out of our right eyes? Why are our left eyes so blurry?” I had no idea the way I felt and thought was not normal. So when the people I trusted told me not to worry so much, I tried my best to follow their directives. The guilt and stress of not being able to stop my reckless whirlwind of anxiety through sheer force of will nearly broke me.

My entire life was laced with anxiety. It was woven into the fibers of my spirit, soaked into the essence of my thoughts. I could not sleep. I could not connect with anyone. I could not withstand any measure of conflict without an almost physical pain. I could not stop eating. I could not stop crying. And still, I tried to stop worrying.


On a hot mid-September day in 2013, at the age of 23, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I received the news with mixed emotions.

On the one hand, knowing that doctors had a name for what I’d been experiencing my entire life was rather comforting. My failures in the “just stop worrying” department weren’t an expression of my inadequacy, just proof that I was different from the people around me.

On the other hand, I was mentally ill. This is not information anyone wants to receive, especially not a self-proclaimed control freak like myself. The medical confirmation that no, I could not exert control over my body, was a tough pill to swallow.

Had I been managing better on my own, I probably would have ignored the doctor’s diagnosis and walked away, but my anxiety had grown and developed during my years of attempted suppression. On top of the usual undercurrent of worry which ran constantly in the background of my thoughts, I was now experiencing panic attacks that were completely disrupting my life, which was why I was sitting in a doctor’s office in the first place.

After a near-sleepless night filled with lucid nightmares and an irrational fear of dying, I’d hyperventilated and nearly blacked out on my morning commute a few days prior. Parking on a narrow, litter-covered stretch of grass, surrounded by flashing lights and being hooked up to a portable EKG monitor is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

It was time to stop trying not to worry, and start trying to understand myself.

Learning the medical side of the monster that controlled my life for years was a long, strange process. It’s strange to know that things like nutrient levels, water intake, exercise levels, and amount of sleep can adjust the way your thoughts tumble around in your mind. It’s strange to know that your body can go through a cycle of anxiety when you’re not even really worried about anything at all.


When I wrote The Partition of Africa, I was struggling to wean myself off my anxiety medication. While I knew there was no shame in treating anxiety with medication, the pills I’d been prescribed just weren’t working for me anymore. They neutralized my panic attacks and helped me sleep, but they were also warping my hormones and messing up my natural rhythms. At times, they caused more anxiety than they cured. I worried about withdrawals, dependency, and possible birth complications if I became pregnant while taking them. It was time to begin the quitting process.

I was desperate for someone to relate to during all this, someone fictional who would understand everything that I was going through. I’d already given Hattie my bookish tendencies, my control freakishness, and my shyness. I decided to give her my illness, as well.

I didn’t stop there. Gavin Reue has anxiety as well, although I don’t explicitly name it. Cameron Wolcott and Molly Marshall both have problems managing their anger. Claire James is a recovering alcoholic, former drug user, and suffers from depression.

At times, I wonder if giving my characters mental health problems was a wise idea. Not everyone struggles with issues like these, and I’m not exactly basing my plots around these illnesses. The stories would function without them, with a bit of tweaking.

But at the end of the day, I’m glad for siphoning this bit of myself into my characters, and for the opportunity to show what it’s like to experience mental illness. I want to show characters who suffer from mental illness and don’t try to harm others or themselves. I want to show that mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean “crazy” or “dangerous.” I want to give hope.

 

This blog post is not meant to be taken as medical advice. I am not a doctor. If you are exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, please contact your primary care physician or search for a mental health care provider in your area here.