Friday, January 15, 2010

Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher

Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things) by Abby Sher is a heart-wrenching, heart breaking exploration of how one child’s fear grew into an obsessive compulsive disorder that manifested in several forms. Before tragedy strikes, Abigail has already acquired the odd habit of shredding her napkin but soon this single quirk increases exponentially. Collecting random pieces of trash she finds in the street to protect anyone and everyone from harm is surrounded by ritual as she must count each item before tossing it away. Everything gradually becomes infused with ritual as she blows kisses, recites songs, rehearsed a prescribed series of dance movements, writes and chants her way through her days.

Her mother is not oblivious and tries to get her daughter help and the well-meaning therapist tries to help Abigail by explaining that there are other people out there who also repeat rituals in order to feel some control. However, by sharing the story of a patient who uses prayer to alleviate anxiety the therapist accidentally opens a whole new realm of obsession for Abigail.

Sher manages to share her vulnerability without falling into an easily glib voice nor does she force meaning into her experiences. Each new compulsion is clearly rooted in what happens to her and around her. So much so that I found myself aching to reach back in time to just hold her as a child. In fact, I had to keep tissues close by as I read through this book because I could not stop the tears from surfacing even as Sher becomes older and her compulsion slides over into anorexia and exercise while never fully releasing herself from any of her other necessary habits. If she is interrupted while praying, she must begin at the beginning and if one ritual is cut short she merely adds more time onto another.

Through various forms of treatment and therapy, it is clear on every page that Sher understands how and why she does the things she does. With each page, the reader hopes nothing more than to come to a conclusion where all is well, that Abby will find some modicum of peace at last. How Sher comes to terms with herself is ultimately more satisfying than I could have hoped. And it is in her ability to be utterly transparent without ever being overly harsh towards herself or others that makes this memoir a rare gem among so many that try to be either too clever or too candid to inspire true sympathy. Abby Sher never allows herself to hide from the truth while never shoving her truth down the reader’s throat. How she does this is something other memoirists would do well to discover and use for themselves.

Oh, and keep some tissues nearby just in case you find yourself getting teary eyed too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Computer Woes Continued

Today step one towards peace of mind has been taken. Or the full extent of my loss will be measured. We won’t know which. But for now, my computer is in the hands of an expert who will do the utmost to save my writing. And if nothing can be saved?

I can’t go there, not even in my imagination.

Admittedly, it won’t be the first time I’ve lost a large body of my creative work. If it were the first I could predict some time for grieving and tentative attempts at beginning again but how many times does one start over before giving up altogether?

It took me nearly two years of fighting the panic attacks. Two years of getting where I didn’t feel scared about letting my words out. When I don’t let them out, they are safe, inside. I can’t lose them. But when I let them out . . .


We’ll see. The worst may not happen again. May not happen this time.

We’ll see. I am hoping for the best. I am completely and utterly unprepared for the worst. I can’t even approach it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake is a young adult novel that takes place in feudal Japan. Rife with cultural references and peppered with Japanese words (written in romaji), the novel shifts from pure historical novel by also including vampires. In fact, the author suggests that all ninjas are vampires—although, as is explained, not all vampires are ninja.

The story unfolds along the typical heroic arch with Taro living a simple life in a fishing village. That Taro is a hero has already been proven because he had saved Hiro’s life before the beginning of the novel. When ninjas attack the village Taro is singled out by one ninja who seems to working not with but against the others to rescue Taro. Hiro, Taro’s best friend, insists on accompanying the two as they escape towards the mountains. This basic premise—hero called to action and led away by a stranger accompanied by a friend—should sound very familiar to most readers of fantasy.

Layering historical fact (the novel takes place in the Edo period of Japan) with fantasy-based fiction (vampirism) allows Lake to have a little more fun with his ideas. The author interweaves a subplot of political intrigue and complications which are set in italics. I don’t know why the publisher chose to do this; it is the sort of “insult to the reader’s intelligence” choice that never makes sense to me. Most readers are intelligent enough to recognize plots/subplots and it is quickly apparent how the two stories work together.

Also, a few of the chapters end with the intrusive authorial forewarning “But then something really, really bad happened.” Of course, I am paraphrasing but it is this type of amateurish writing that I am surprised wasn’t edited out of the final manuscript. If you know your story is engaging, you don’t need to tell the reader at the end of one chapter that something surprising is going to happen in the next. Trust your story. Trust your reader.

In spite of these things, I found the book to be interesting and eventually compelling although I didn’t immediately lose myself in the plot or the characters. I would definitely recommend this novel to young adult readers if only to encourage further exploration. Lake chose a politically charged era in Japanese history that has inspired other authors as well. James Clavell’s Shogun takes place in the same timeframe although he chose to change a lot of the historical names further distancing fiction from fact. A teacher could easily use this novel to both encourage the student to research the truth behind the fiction and then encourage the student(s) to graduate to Clavell’s more epic and more adult novel. Also, there are a few historical anachronisms and cultural interpretations that are wrong. If I were using this text in a classroom, I would definitely encourage the students to try to find the mistakes for themselves, to encourage further research into the era as well as a close reading of the text.

Also, although it is nowhere mentioned on the book jacket, this is the first of what I assume will be a trilogy or series of novels. Frankly, this does beg the question: Do we really need yet another vampire series? One could easily argue that we do not but I’m a sucker for Japanese history and I am curious to see if Lake will choose to focus on the history of the time and more fully immerse the reader in the culture or if he will focus more on the vampire mythos he is trying to create. I can’t say, as of the writing of this review, if I am curious enough to read the next book with genuine enthusiasm or merely idle curiosity. I suppose we’ll know when/if the next book is released.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Attention Facebook Friends & Family (Second Call)

Facebook still hasn't resolved the issues with my account being hacked.  Given that facebook was the first account to be hacked and that both yahoo and hotmail (email accounts I had associated with my facebook account) were hacked later but have also both cooperated with me in resolving the issue, I am not sure why facebook is not being more proactive about the situation.

However, I have lost all email addresses except the very few that I used in my gmail account.  Some of you have contacted me (and if I haven't already done so, I'll reply soon--on top of everything else I'm sick (grrrr . . .) and so it is taking me longer to do things).  Others have not.

Once again, here is one of the only two emails that was not compromised . . . the one I will be using going forward:

satia62 at gmail dot com

Talk to you soon, I hope.  As soon as facebook responds to my repeated requests for help, I will be deleting my account altogether. 


Monday, January 11, 2010

The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves by Siri Hustvedt

The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves by Siri Hustvedt is an odd addition to the seeming glut of memoirs that are overflowing in bookstores and on best-seller lists. It begins with Hustvedt sharing her experience while giving a talk for, as she was speaking, her body began to shake. Although she was able to complete the prepared speech, she was understandably concerned and began a quest to better understand what had happened to her in hopes of avoiding a repetition of the experience.

I wanted to read this book because I knew what it is to wake up one day and have a body that is no longer within one’s own control, to find one’s self struggling to make sense and comprehend something that cannot be easily diagnosed. I expected a typical example of creative nonfiction full of recollected moments, recreated dialogues, and a dramatic narrative arch.

Instead, I found myself reading an historical exploration of psychology from such eminent forefathers as Freud and James. When she cannot find an answer within psychology, her intellectual journey takes her through neurobiology, trying to comprehend the subtle ways in which the brain works, how memory and self-awareness inform the individual’s perception of reality. Not stopping there, she infuses the text with examples from literature, sacred literature, and poetry.

Hustvedt leaves few, if any, stones unturned in trying to make meaning of her condition for, as she had feared, she does experience further episodes and it is through her intellectual quest she comes to eventual and perhaps inevitable terms with herself and her new self-definition.

For those who have become accustomed to memoirs filled with dialogue and action, memoirs that read more like novels than autobiographies, this book will probably read as tedious and dispassionate. This surprising for the author has published several novels so there is reason to believe that she could easily conceive her story with less objectivity.

However, it is this very objectivity that lends her experience a particular weight. Hustvedt’s experience is unique but the emotional implications are not. Anyone who has ever hit a physical wall, who has been told that there is no cure, who knows what it is to live from day-to-day measuring hope and despair by how the body responds to particular stimuli will be able to read between the lines. By not sharing her own experience in too subjective and intimate a manner, she allows the reader to draw upon personal experience to make this memoir that much more personal.

For anyone who approaches circumstances, especially problems, with a problem solving and/or intellectual bent, this memoir will resonate above and beyond the singular experience.


True stories can’t be told forward, only backward (38)

Meaning is something we find and make. It is never complete. (131)

Like most contemporary psychoanalysts, I do not believe in universal dream symbols, that stairs signify one thing and trees or kites another. Dreams are stories made by and for the dreamer and each dreamer has his own folds to open and knots to untie. (137)

Dogmas can make people blind. (101)

None of us chooses chronic illness. It chooses us. (189)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Attention! Facebook Friends and Family! (First Call)

Dear Facebook People,

Due to the hacker getting into my account and changing my password and facebook's non-responsiveness, I am unable to access my account.  If I could, I would contact many of you personally and ask you to please email me at:

satia62 at gmail dot com

Because the hacker also accessed all but my gmail email accounts, I have lost all of my email addresses except for a very few that I had already assocatiated with my gmail account.  In other words, if I only emailed you through my hotmail/aim/yahoo accounts, I can no longer email you. 

If you choose not to email me then I will accept that as your way of saying goodbye.  

I hope to hear from many of you soon.