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Monday, January 13, 2014

New Book Review

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


I honestly don't know what to say about this novel. I feel like there were a lot of reasons for me to love this novel. There was an array of strong characters, a lovely European location (for half of the book), and a story that spanned half a century. 


However, it just didn't all work for me. I really liked the simplicity and beauty of the relationship between Pasquale and Dee Moray. A man who feels he must be honorable and "save" this damsel in distress, whom he also happens to become enamored of at first sight. A woman who loved a man who she would never have (Richard Burton) and recognizing the choice she needed to make to respect herself, all while becoming emotionally vulnerable with Pasquale and somewhat attached. The man recognizing himself that to be truly honorable to this woman, he needed to face the dishonor in his own life. 


However, I felt like the intervention of the movie business into the novel was contrived and really made the novel end in a tailspin. I didn't like the jumps in years (decades) between chapters as it felt very disjointed to me, and I didn't like that he had to use Richard Burton and Liz Taylor to make the story more "interesting". 


I really felt that if he had invested in the central characters in Italy: Pasquale, Dee, Alvis Bender, and Amedea, that there would have been a much better story there. The same themes could have been explored within that story. 


The central theme is great and I feel like the "honor" of the one story could have been beautifully handled, with the same outcome, without having to integrate a horrible, self-serving Hollywood producer, Michael Deane, and the terrible character of Shane Wheeler, who was literally just a translator. I actually agree with Shane's ex-wife Saundra when she calls him milk-fed veal. He's just so simpering and self-serving and just like Michael Deane, but supposedly having "learned his lesson" about being that way. Claire Silver, her boyfriend Darryl, and even Pat Bender and Lydia, were just there to provide a couple more subplots (not great ones either) and why, oh why was the Donner party even mentioned in this book? Ugh.


Finally, I couldn't stand the last chapter of this book. The last page was okay, but all of the "up-to-dates" of everybody's lives was just someone trying to tie up the loose ends quickly. It felt sloppy to me.


In the interest of not giving this a completely scathing review, the only other plus in this novel was the relationship of Pat and Lydia. I think I would be bored if I just read a cliche novel about these two and overcoming hardship and blah, blah, blah, but I really feel like this was the only other relationship that was real in this book and I wish it would have been left for another novel, instead of trying to shove them in, just so you can continue referencing Richard Burton for another 10 chapters. 


There, that's it. I'm sorry that I didn't like it. I really wanted to and I really tried. I liked a part of it, but that little piece just wasn't big enough for me. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

And so...

And so it goes that I am 36 years old and seeking therapy for the first time in my life.  I have come to the realization lately that I cannot, in fact, do it all on my own.

I cannot always pull myself up out of the rabbit hole of disturbing and frightening thoughts and I cannot always rely on others to pull me out either.  I have had dreadful thoughts lately.  Thoughts that I can barely reveal to myself , let alone to my spouse, my children, my family.  Thoughts of darkness and death.  Dying and what really happens at the end.  I am Catholic and I totally believe in heaven and purgatory, but this transition terrifies me.  Will it hurt?  How painful will it be?  Will I even know the difference since I don't remember the nonexistence that was there before my existence?  I start down that rabbit hole and go all the way down, to the wretched bottom, gasping for air and becoming hyper-conscious of my heart and how it beats and oh my goodness, is it starting to go faster?  Is it skipping beats?  Oh no, maybe this is it!

I actually had these thoughts on New Year's Eve.  As the clock ticked down to midnight and the New Year, I honestly questioned whether I would just die right there on the spot.  I try to assuage this fears by remembering that while I was under anesthesia for my stereotaxis ablation (for my atrial fibrillation) that apparently my heart stopped and I didn't remember a thing, nor did I feel a thing.  However, that's not enough.  I obsess over these feelings.  Even now, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to write this piece without starting the spiral.

Apparently, the spiral is the commonality.  The commonality that links all those like me who suffer from acute anxiety and panic attacks.  Something I had never experienced until the night before Thanksgiving.  Something I couldn't even identify as that at the time.  I have sought (almost wrote seeked, for shame English major!) out mentors and people that listen well.  I have talked over and over with my spouse.  One of them is in my husband's RCIA class (he's converting to Catholicism after 9 years of marriage).  She is a team leader and she has helped talk me off the ledge, when I was starting to spiral and I had tears in my eyes and thought I was going crazy.  She reminded me that Jesus is there in every moment.  My guardian angel is there.  To seek them, turn to them, instead of wrapping myself up in the fear.  It helps.  Praying the rosary on the way to work each morning helps.

 Trying to give myself up to the Lord is difficult and frightening.  I've never been great at praying.  Brief moments of lifting thoughts up to God constitute the majority of my prayers.  Even then as I am praying I can feel myself focusing too much on my fear.

I've taken up meditation.  I try to meditate 15 minutes a day, during my morning break at work.  I currently switch between one of 3 mantras.  "Inhale Peace, Exhale Love", "Christ is my Center", and "Ever Faithful, Ever Loving".  Meditation does help, but sometimes even that isn't enough.

So, I broke down.  I did something that I have never done before.  I hadn't done it, because I grew up thinking that I would be weak for reaching out.  I would be looked at as even more nuts than most people probably already think that I am.  I talked with my PCP about it and she prescribed anxiety medication.  She also recommended several different therapists to try.  She explained that anxiety, like cancer, can go into remission and that therapy and medication can help abate the fear and give back control.

I am ready to fight this thing. I am ready to spend more time with my husband and my kids and enjoy the day.  I am ready to not want to curl up in a ball and sit all day long.  I am ready to let these avenues of support open up and help swallow that fear whole, after being flooded with positive light and faith.

God of mercy, God of eternal love, 
Help me to raise my cries to you.  Help me to seek you in desperation and pain, in joy and solace.  
The leper's faith was enough for him to be healed.  Let me also seek that healing in my heart, so that I can give more of myself to you. 
 Mary, help me to emulate your beautiful example of obedience in doing God's will and not my own.  
Lord, grant all my friends and family grace and blessings and thank you for the blessings in my life.  
Amen.

Tonight, in the shower, I sat on the floor of my narrow tub, letting the hot water pelt the end of my nose and my eyelashes and flow over my lap and legs and feet.  As the water pelted me I asked myself what I wanted from this moment, this day, this life.  As the water washed away the fear trying to set up camp in my gut, I felt strong, because I knew what I wanted.  I wanted to choose joy and not fear.


I hope all of you understand that reaching out for help is not a bad thing.  It isn't taboo.  We all need help.  We all need support.  Please, if you have anxiety issues or feel depressed, see you doctor and ask for recommendations for a licensed clinical social worker or other therapist to speak with regularly.  You are NOT alone.