Friday, October 6, 2017

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

The Stolen MarriageThe Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished Diane Chamberlain's new novel, "The Stolen Marriage" late the other night; I simply couldn't stop reading until I turned the last page at 4 AM. Yesterday, I was so lost in a post-reading reverie ("book hangover?") that I forgot to go to an appointment I had at 5 PM. I am a great fan of Diane Chamberlain and have read and loved most of her books; however, "The Stolen Marriage" moves her up to the next level--from the Kristin Hannah/Barbara Delinsky crowd to the Chris Bohjalian/Wally Lamb/Curtis Sittenfeld realm. Based loosely on a true story, this powerful book is the real deal - a brilliantly-crafted, well-plotted, and flawlessly researched novel that will not disappoint any reader who loves suspense in a family setting.

Set in 1944, the storyline revolves around three major issues of the era: the taboo of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the laws against interracial marriage, and the epidemic of infantile paralysis (polio). Chamberlain's tightly-woven plot kept me turning pages. "The Stolen Marriage" is replete with multi-dimensional characters who are certainly not who they seem to be, but I won't disclose the ending. I will say that the twist outdid Jodi Picoult. I commend Diane Chamberlain on her graduation to the next league of literary fiction writers. Highly recommended!


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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Summer of Impossible ThingsThe Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stayed up all night reading this 424-page novel because I was so drawn into the story that I could not put it down. The basic premise is that a young woman named Luna, who lives in England and works as a physicist, loses her mother to suicide. Before she and her sister Pia travel to Brooklyn, New York, to settle the estate, Luna views footage from a film their mother made as a goodbye. In this footage, the mother alludes to a terrible event from the past, and reveals that the man Luna always knew as her dad is not her biological father. The footage ends with the cryptic words: "If you look very hard you will find me in Brooklyn.....if you want to look after you know what I did....He wouldn't let me go, you see. Find me...please."

Luna senses a deep dread and a primal knowledge upon hearing this message. Her fear stems from the fact that she has been experiencing intermittent flashes and odd, disorienting episodes that suggest that she may have the ability to travel back in time. In fact, as soon as Luna and Pia are in Brooklyn, Luna has the same strange, familiar flashes, which intensify as she approaches the building where their mother once lived. She hears the song "Hotel California" coming from her mother's building. There she encounters unusual furnishings and a group of young people in late 70s attire, and she realizes that she has landed in 1977. She is stunned to discover that the woman she sees sitting on the back of a brown sofa is her mother. When their eyes meet. Luna sees that her mother, Marissa ("Riss"), is free-spirited and lighthearted, unlike anything Luna remembers from her late mother's affect. This makes it immediately clear to Luna that Riss has not yet experienced the trauma that altered her personality and eventually drove her to kill herself. It is obvious to the reader that whatever happened to Riss resulted in Luna's conception. (A major hint is disclosed early on: Luna is the only member of her family with blue eyes).

When Luna and Pia meet the lawyer who is handling the estate and the sale of their mother's building, they are given a box labeled "To My Daughters" in their mother's handwriting. It contains four reels of Super-Eight film, a projector and a battery pack. When the sisters watch the first film, they see their mother and hear her tell them the story of what happened to her in 1977 that destroyed her life. Now knowing the truth, a horrified Luna resolves to rewrite time in order to save Riss from the experience that drove her to take her own life in middle age, even though this will eradicate Luna's very existence.

Luna discovers the identity of her birth father. She travels back to 1977 several times; inevitably she and Riss are drawn together and bond. This strengthens Luna's determination to find her birth father and prevent Riss from ever meeting him. The blue-eyed man revealed as her father comes as a shock to the reader - at least to me. At this point, I was unable to stop reading.

Each time Luna goes back in time, something is altered about the past. (This is reminiscent of Stephen King's 11/22/63). I won't reveal any more of the details; suffice to say that Luna falls in love with one of her mother's male friends from the past, and she encounters older versions of these individuals when she is in the present time. Just when everything seems to fall into place, a shocking twist occurs, and the book's resolution left me reeling.

I will admit that even though I caught some hints early on, I was so drawn into the story that I suspended my imagination and went for the ride. I'm glad I did, and even happier that I didn't glance ahead (as I often do) to see how things would end.

The odd thing about this book is that it came out this past summer, and I was unable to buy it on Amazon; I had to get it from England. I am still pondering this. I am also eager for the movie that I hope will follow. This is by far the best book I have read in 2017; I will add that I've already read Rowan Coleman's earlier books and was already enchanted by her writing. This book will resonate with anyone who loved The Time Traveler's Wife and 11/22/63. I am looking for more of Rowan Coleman's work; needless to say, I highly recommend this novel!



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Monday, September 18, 2017

My response to Quora question: "How would you compare SMART Recovery to AA?"

    
I’m intrigued by SMART Recovery, and might check it out if we had a group in my home town, but I doubt I’d go to a lot of meetings.

I will say this: AA does not work for me.
I have four years of sobriety, and I attended AA diligently for over three years. By last fall, I had had it up to the gills; I had been getting more and more annoyed with the behaviors I observed at the group. I was disagreeing more and more with the philosophy; the final straw was the day I found myself at a meeting at which the chairperson used the “Tag, you’re It” method rather than the customary going around the table. I was never called on. As it was, at this particular meeting, my “sponsor” (that is in quotes and I’ll explain later) was sitting right next to me. To make a long story short, it was five minutes before the end of the meeting and she had just spoken, and she knew I had not had a turn. Instead of being classy and turning to me and saying “Elizabeth?” she “tagged” a person who had already spoken! I felt like a high school kid in gym class - humiliated because I wasn’t chosen by anyone for a team. I’ve never cared whether I got a chance to share at a meeting or not; I accept that the meetings last an hour and if you are going around the table, which is the norm, it’s based on where you’re sitting. But this was, in my mind, so terribly inappropriate that I decided not to go back. I vehemently object to an AA meeting turning out to be a popularity contest. I digress; back to the question: 
How would you compare SMART Recovery to AA?
Since I haven’t been to a meeting of SR, I can’t speak about what they are like, but I will make a list of the reasons why I don’t like AA:
  • I don’t buy the “one day at a time.” When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. The morning after I took my last drink, I decided that I did not want to drink any more. I wanted to live. I wanted to stop hurting my loved ones. So I stopped. That is the same way I stopped smoking in 1983—I had just bought a house with a marathon runner and had no desire to pollute our home with tobacco fumes. I had no “meeting” to go to to help me through nicotine withdrawal, which I think is harder than alcohol cessation, but I have not bought a pack of cigarettes since the day I quit, and that was 34 years ago. Yes, I have bummed one from time to time, but doing that did NOT make me want to become a full-blown smoker again. I have no desire to smoke and no desire to drink - period, the end. At this point I’ve developed asthma and won’t go near cigarette smoke under any circumstances.
  • The AA group I went to was full of very conservative, cliquish, right-wing Big Book bangers. The woman I chose for a “sponsor” did nothing but spew slogans at me, peppered with laughter and constant interruptions from her theatrical young daughter. I don’t need nor want a lay person to go to when I am burdened. I prefer professional help. In addition, there is a lot of gossip and scapegoating going on in that group, and there isn’t a single person there who would appeal to me as a confidante and/or support person. I was actually told more than once that I was not well-liked.
  • I've gotten the cold shoulder from them because I ask questions. When I do that, I am scolded and told that I sound like a “little professor,” that I am “too smart,” that I “think too much,” and that I should read “the book.” I am United Methodist, and in my denomination, we are never instructed to read the Bible and take every word literally. My pastors invite discussion and debate, and there is an academic atmosphere that I very much like. AA seems almost like one of those fundamentalist churches I’ve heard about, where you are told what you must believe, and that it is not OK to question things - much less, to think for yourself. That is called brainwashing.
  • I stated at one meeting that while I go to church on Sunday and believe in God, I don’t think that I am sober because of God. I was called out for that, and shunned outwardly afterwards.
  • I can’t stand being spoken to in bumper sticker slogans. I don’t like being glibly told “Make a gratitude list” by someone I barely know if I appear to be having a bad day.
  • Many of the people there are party people, and they were used to going out to bars with their friends and getting drunk. These folks had two problems - one, they needed to stop drinking and two, they were going to need to find a new social circle. This group is their “crowd.” In my case, none of my friends drink and I was never a bar person. Quitting alcohol has not affected my social life in the least, expect for the fact that I’m no longer drunk every day, to my great relief and to that of my loved ones.
  • I find AA meetings to have a robotic vibe; so many people sit there and rattle off what sound like memorized responses. There is simply no room for intellectual dialogue. It is like a religious revival meeting. Since I value religion, I attend my church. My faith and beliefs are my business, not the AA group’s. (I even had one person try to get me to attend her megachurch!)
  • Stopping drinking for me was a matter of reframing my ideas around alcohol, and deciding I no longer wanted it as part of my world. It had nothing to do with a higher power. It had everything to do with not wanting to die of alcohol abuse, which is what happened to one of my sisters this past January. This just reinforces my decision not to drink.
  • I have always made amends when needed. But I am not “powerless.” I am empowered. And I can't stand being in an environment in which people are constantly beating up on themselves. How is that helpful? In other words, I agree with some of the steps; I take issue with others. I will be damned if I’m going to sit and listen to “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” I didn’t do that. I just told my family, my boyfriend and my best friend that I had decided to stop drinking, and I did, and that was that. And that language about how people who don’t do the steps and don’t go to meetings will surely relapse and die (“There ARE such unfortunates”) pisses me off.
  • After I stopped going to meetings, I did NOT have any urge to relapse. Are you kidding me? It killed my little sister on her 60th birthday. When I think of alcohol, I want to vomit. I don’t care if other people drink; however, I do believe that I would put myself at risk if I took a drink, so I choose not to. That IS one part of the AA philosophy that I buy.
  • I hate labels and I don’t call myself a smoker. I don’t like calling myself an alcoholic. I am a person who developed the unhealthy habit of using alcohol in excess to self-medicate when I was depressed, rather than getting help from a cognitive behavioral therapist and joining a church. I know I had a serious problem with alcohol, but the fact that I was able to stop without effort suggests that maybe I am not an “alcoholic.” I don’t think my sister nor most of the people who go those AA meetings could have cut it out completely. I will repeat that I believe that it would be unwise for me to drink again, and I will not.
  • I have ADHD and I have trouble concentrating at meetings or at any gathering where I have to listen to other people for a long time. I carry a notebook with me and I take notes if I feel like I am tuning out. Being able to write is a safety valve for me; I often take notes during the sermons at church and my pastors know it, and they don’t mind. At AA I actually had a person grab my notebook away from me. That was a violation of my personal boundaries.
  • Finally, I know I am on the Aspie spectrum. I will reiterate that I hate groups. I will also say this, wholeheartedly: I love life, and I want to live. And I don’t believe that I must depend on a group and meetings and steps in order to live. I will not live my life driven by fear of relapse. I am 67 and I plan to be around for a long time. I know AA has helped thousands, and I respect that. But - groupthink is just not for me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Quora asked:

Very open-ended question. Curious to hear your stories!
Elizabeth Flygare
Elizabeth Flygare, "Teach people how to treat you."
1. That love is not a zero-sum game. Love multiplies; it’s not one pie that has to be cut into pieces and divided up. You don’t have to take some of your love away from one person in order to give love to another; you can give each person (and each pet!) ALL YOUR LOVE. If parents could explain this to their kids, maybe using circles to illustrate, perhaps there wouldn’t be any of that “Mom and Dad love you MORE” type of sibling rivalry. It took me until age 67 to learn this very simple thing about life, and I got it from a sermon in church last Sunday.
The rest of my list comes from a meeting with a licensed clinical social worker:
2. Do not give overwhelming emotional responses to people you don’t know well. Pay attention to who the recipient is before you disclose the personal. Otherwise, you are putting that person on the spot and creating a very uncomfortable situation, and you come off as insecure and immature. The recipient will have no idea how to respond, and the response might be very hurtful. Example: You belong to a group that meets regularly, and you feel rejected by the others. You tell a random person in the group - someone you barely know - “Everyone here HATES me!” What is this person supposed to say to you?
3. That if someone is trying to hook you, scapegoat you or otherwise push your buttons, step back and ask yourself, ”Is this my shit—-or your shit?” Think to yourself, ”Does this person KNOW me?” They may very well have no idea what you are about—this is covered more in the next point:
4. Realize that abusive remarks often come from people who are remembering past unpleasant encounters with you, or old patterns that you exhibited that invited the rib jab. More often than not, people refuse to see positive changes in others; their default is to hang onto stereotypical attitudes.
5, I have come upon the knowledge that there are often times when one simply has to walk away from the toxic past, move on and seek the positive - and maybe end up with a lot of new friends. (Consider those who “knew you when,” yet remain in your life and have your back. Those are REAL friends!)
4. If you have had these issues and are now working toward growth and positive change, it will become easier to tell the difference between your baggage and that of others. Tell yourself: “The more I believe in who I am as a person, the less I will be a target. If I still find myself getting gaslighted or hooked (we all do), I don’t have to take the bait, because I am learning a skill set that will teach me how to respond to such treatment, and how to avoid setting myself up for more.”
That, my friends, is a combination of one wise lesson and some good cognitive behavioral therapy, all in a span of three days.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My Review of The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

The Light We LostThe Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

REVIEW of The Light We Lost, written May, 2017 (Spoilers)
I stayed up all night and finished The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. It was written in exactly my style - first person, in "journal" format, sequential, and heartrending. I want to write a book just like that, in the same style! The story broke my heart, but - in the end - I think that both of the men were jerks in their own ways. #1; the one she loved passionately; chose to to leave her, follow his bliss, womanize, travel all over the world, risk his life in the Middle East, and deal her crumbs in the forms of emails, surprise phone calls, and appearances at inopportune moments. #2, .the guy she ended up marrying, was a control freak who never let her in on ANY decisions - he even bought and closed on a HOUSE without running it by her! And she thought he was cheating on her - only to find out that the mysterious "Linda" on his cell phone was the Realtor. Ugh.  But when I finished the book, I suspected she'd go back to hubby (aka #2), because they had two (soon three) children - I think you can guess about the paternity of child #3 and the fate of Guy #1, but I won't spoil it. LOL.

I think she should have stuck with Guy #1. Doubt anyone would agree, but it would have changed the course of events.for both of them. I would love to think that they are living their lives in bliss. But it's just a book, and that scenario would have made for a weak ending. “Such is life,” sighs this incurable romantic.




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Thursday, April 13, 2017

My Quora Post about Given First Names, or What Not To Name Your Baby



Any names you have found over the years that were funny, interesting, or just awful that you would not name your child?

Given your last name, what would you not name your kids?
One kids’ name that I read about was “Shi-Thead” (pronounced as Shi-Tead). Horrible!

LizzaCat
LizzaCat, "Teach people how to treat you."




Gay. or Gaye.
I am grateful to see the post, further down, from another woman who has had to endure “Gaye” as a first name. Born in 1950, I, too, suffered from this name, spelled “Gay” on my birth certificate. What made it harder is that (1) our family surname has a “y” and a “g” in it, which made my name sound guttural and unfeminine; (2) My parents went on to have four more daughters who got normal names; Susan, Catherine, Margaret and Nancy.
I loathed my first name; at the age of four, I actually said to my mother: “Why did you name me Gay? I’m not a happy child.” I made up several aliases for myself throughout grade school, junior high and high school.
Yes, I endured Gail, Kay, and mockery. In junior high I added the “e,” thinking “Gaye” would at least look more sophisticated.
The only thing I loved about my name Gaye was that it was fun to write.
I started college in 1968. One of my friends had to take me aside and tell me that I should NOT introduce myself by saying “I’m Gaye.” I had no idea what the term “gay” meant - it was just coming into use to mean “homosexual.”
At age 27, I had had it. I read a book called Born to Win, which made me realize that I could take control of this curse. I immediately dropped my first name and started going by my given middle name, Elizabeth, which I’ve always loved. (My parents were relieved) I officially announced it at work. I went back over old drawings I’d done and altered my signature. I even got a new Social Security card and drivers’ license.
I wanted a middle name but it seemed very weird to just pick out something. Sometimes I would tell people my middle name was Amanda, because that is actually a name in my family.
Then, a friend of mine who did not receive a middle name publicly gave herself “Rhiannon” as a middle name. That seemed reasonable to me. If she could do it, why couldn’t I? At the time, the singer Enya’s sister, Maire Brennan, named her newborn daughter “Aisling.” It means “dream” or “vision” in Irish/Gaelic and can either be pronounced as spelled or as ASH-ling. I’m Swedish, not Irish, but I fell in love with that name and claimed it for my middle name in 1996, and I have been Elizabeth Aisling ever since. My boyfriend calls me “Lizza,” which I love.
Later poor Maire sold out and started calling herself “Moya” as her sister Eithne did earlier, to become “Enya.” They probably got sick of the mispronounciations.
I still don’t know why I didn’t get the name Joy, or Felicity or Felicia (my grandpa’s name was Felix!) or even Hilary if they’d wanted a cheerful name—or Abigail or Gail if they were going for that G-gay sound. The only G name I can think of that is ickier than Gay/Gaye is Gladys. Even Gertrude would have been fine. Gaia is beautiful, but no one would have known how to pronounce it. I’ve even heard of MEN named Gay - not Gaylord - just Gay. Bevare oss väl!
It is because of this unfortunate moniker that I have been fascinated, to the point of obsession, with bad baby names. There’s a wonderful website, Best of Bad Baby Names that gives some choice examples.
For years I would not disclose what my first name was, but when Facebook came along, I had to out myself at times so my high school friends could find me. I am no longer embarrassed about my given first name; I will tell people what it is if the subject comes up. I have decided to own it. Damn, though, I am very glad I got to put Elizabeth on my passport. And even though my father was an avid genealogist, no one is going to find me under the name Gay, because I just found out that you can actually have your birth certificate changed. I’m going to look into it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Who Am I, and Why Would Someone Want to Be My Friend?



DISCLAIMER: I was asked by a Buddhist therapist to ponder these questions. I planned to work on this during my vacation in Florida from January 20-Feb. 4. As bad luck would have it, a few days after Marie and I arrived in Florida, I received the news that my sister Margaret had died. You will see details surrounding her death in this post. I also must note that when I finally saw the therapist, she didn't even read it. Does it matter? Not really. I like to write. It was an interesting activity.

January, 2017 was not a good time for me to try to write something like this – or was it? Perhaps we never know who we really are until (1) we receive startling news and (2) any time our values collide with opposing ones, and we discover where the other person stops and we start. 

All my life I’ve let others define me. The loss of my sister and the subsequent family interactions have profoundly changed me.

I did read this to aloud one person: my best friend from college (1968-72). She thought it was prolix. When she got to the part about me being a rock, she laughed out loud and said, “You’re a skipping stone.” And I think she is right. I am a rule-breaker, and I’ve broken another one now – I’ve decided to take what she said. I am, indeed a skipping stone. And here is my dissertation.

I am Elizabeth, the eldest of five sisters – now we are four. I am my sister’s keeper; or, I tried to be.  I am the sister who called the police to do a welfare check on my sister Margaret in Hawaii, on January 24 of this year, because no one could get hold of her on her 60th birthday. While my friend and housemate Marie and I were hoping to have fun on our Florida vacation, I was the one who found myself placing that call to the authorities. Yes, I am the Great Family Heroine whose inquiry led the officers to my sister’s apartment, where she had been dead for four days. I am the Responsible One: the sister, the daughter, the cousin, the friend, the aunt, the messenger who delivered the terrible news, wrote the obituary, and sobbed every day, 1400 miles away from home, trying not to bleed out. I didn’t know that I needed to be at home. We stayed in Florida; what could be done? It was so beautiful there. We had the best vacation we could, but this hung heavily over every day we spent in the paradise we love. Leave it to Margaret (the only other drama queen in the family) to be found dead on the day Donald Trump was sworn in, right at the beginning of a family member’s vacation. Timing is everything. Timing is nothing.

I am a rock. My sister’s last text to me before her death was “You are my rock.” But a rock feels no pain, sings Paul Simon. And an island never cries, sings Art Garfunkel. Not true. If I am a rock, I don’t know if I am a fine, smooth stone on which someone can lean for anchor, or a little pebble in a brook. Perhaps I am a rare piece of quartz crystal, or a sliver of mica, or some type of jewel. I do know this: whatever type of rock, or stone, or jewel I am, it is covered with so much seaweed and moss and other dreck that I can’t see how I shine.

Always a bridesmaid, I was the Brownie Scout who never flew up. I was the one with the Bachelor of Arts degree but no librarian credentials, yet I got to be the music librarian at Rockford Public Library because Marie, who was my boss at the time and didn’t care much for rules either, gave me the position. Actually, I was an art major; I chose art because it gave me time to dream and write fanfiction, walk in fields with my guitar, and spend most of my college days in the music department. (To this day, most people assume I was a music major; I am only beginning to reclaim my art). I am from the second generation of sisters to fight over the piano; Mom and my aunts taught us “Safe piano” to reserve it after the dishes were done. The piano bench was my safe space. Mom sang to us; we each had our own song. I grew up in a family with a soundtrack. Music is who I am. I identify myself through music. So, I am music.

My soundtrack still evolves; it follows me, marking my journey. When contented, I am melodic with sweet, flowing harmonies. In joy, I am an outburst of ecstatic choral singing, always with deep feeling and majestic form, always with me conducting. The parts of me that are complete always resolve on the tonic note. I am a weeper and a growler – I roar and pierce as a pipe organ with state trumpets and I whimper with the chiff of flutes. I cry out loud with the terrifying grandeur of loud registration. I am radiant, full organ when I feel intense – all my stops are pulled out. At ease, I am that sound you hear in the wind: a symphony with some choral sections, majestic in parts and numinous in others.

Pensive, I am a wire-strung harp with sustain, or a classically fingerpicked fretted dulcimer. I am a writer; I am always telling a story in my head. I write as a talented choir, swirls of radiance and majesty interspersed with wistful longing, bearing an undertone of melancholia. I am drama. I am pure light when my songs flow. I am a talker and I am a jumble of words that I sometimes reverse. I can be powerful; when misused, my power drains others. When I am in flow, my power can enchant and energize. In morose mode, my power shrinks into a flaccid pool of loss, and I am silence.

I am a poet; I discovered at age 22 that my father had snitched a notebook of my poetry and hidden it in a closet, as a guilty boy would stash forbidden comic books. Mom still has it. I am also an artist, but life drawing has been replaced by photo-editing software with a sketch setting. Like cursive, my drawing is obsolete. Most of my skills are decorative and not too useful. I am an ornament. I am an educated middle-to-upper middle class Chicago suburbanite with white privilege. I attract smart people. Rockford is an embarrassment of poor grammar, misplaced apostrophes and polyester. I am a snob.

I fear and avoid chaos, dissonance, high-pitched shrieking, robotic drumbeats and any type of jazz that is jumpy and unpredictable. I crave harmony and symmetry. I am a creature with an intricate range of settings, but I perceive myself as either on or off, much like a television set. I am sung in the key of F, on a bright Asian piano. The key of F is blue, but I am purple. A bruise is purple. I am a bruise, so I have come here. I am bruised and battered because I am a lost soul who has spent her entire life granting others permission to tell me what I am and even how I feel. Throughout the years, I’ve tried to force a reluctant Marie to define my emotions; she has obliged at times. This is a very odd thing to be asked to write.

I am female. I am not gender-specific when it comes to falling in love. I have identified as lesbian; now I find that my kindred spirit and soulmate is male. Am I heterosexual now? Am I an alien from a planet where there are no labels? No-- I label everything. Human brains would explode without some sort of categorizing mechanism. I think that lack is what causes autism; they are the ones whose brains cannot filter out any type of input; they are trapped at seven plus or minus two for life. Sometimes, my mind can’t block things; other times, I am in a tunnel, oblivious to the world. I am a person who needs structure. I am auditory kinesthetic. I can be digital if I have to be. I forget faces; I am the one who will remember your name but have no idea who you are. I am sinister (left-handed.) Coarseness and vulgarity disgust me; I believe life should be a work of art.  I am an elitist. I am also a brand, and my brand is HAIR. I am my hair, and my hair is me. I am a bit of a narcissist about my hair.

Marie says that I constantly look at myself in mirrors. She put an existentialist spin on it –she thinks I want to reassure myself that I am real. I mostly want to know if my bangs look all right. I keep wanting others to tell me what they see. All I see is my image in reverse, in the mirror. Now we have smartphones, so I am a selfie - I can see myself as I am! It often horrifies me. I am a selfie who is often Photoshopped, by me, before others see my image on Facebook. I am constantly taking selfies. So perhaps Marie is right.

I am one of over a billion souls with bodies alive on this planet. I am an abyss-walker, and I recognize my fellow abyss-walkers – as they do me. Many people took the ferry across the river of life; I am still struggling to swim. I thought I was a young soul; now I don’t know. I am told I am a wise, kind, and brilliant person, so perhaps my soul is old. But my soul doesn’t seem to fit in with the majority of other souls in this earthly realm. I am a living thing, leaning toward the sun after a lifetime of owning only my darkness. I am a chameleon; I am a person who fears authority and punishment, and have let others define me because that is the only way I can stay safe.

I am articulate, but I am a bubble off. My clock doesn’t run in sync with the preferred clock of society. I am a contradiction: I test as intuitive, but I always need things spelled out to me and I panic if I cannot have closure. (That damned MBTI again) My life is a jumbled tapestry, but there are some consistent threads. I am a person who wants to follow these threads. I am a broken mosaic but I am a work of art. The pastor where I attend church says that I am a beloved child of God. Am I?

I hate groups. I am someone who has trouble picking up the beat in meetings or groups, unless I am jamming with other musicians. When I am playing my instruments, which I play by ear, I am in flow. That is how jazz evolved. Music is communication for those who don’t understand each other’s spoken language. I communicate comfortably with music. People love to listen to me play. People like to be around me and listen to the music I make.

As I said, I was a paraprofessional librarian. I chose this field because it was, at one time, a respectable haven for a person like me who didn’t “fit the mold” and had an unmarketable liberal arts degree. At the library I found my fellow abyss-walkers, lovers, friends and enemies. The mermaids sang for many of my co-workers; they never sang for me. Ultimately it turned to corporate hell and I was pushed into early retirement.

I am supposed to label myself as “an alcoholic.” I am not a friend of Bill Wilson. AA is a patriarchal, book-thumping, slogan-bearing herd of anti-intellectual people who talk in bumper stickers, thrive on groupthink, and believe that they are powerless. I am not powerless. And I am suspicious of anything that reeks of a cult.

I believe in God, but God isn’t what keeps me sober. I said that at an AA meeting. Horrors!  That’s why I was scapegoated and called out at least once a week when I went to AA meetings-- I asked too many questions. AA doesn’t like that. (“Elizabeth! You think too much! That is stinking thinking!”)  Donald Trump doesn’t want any Americans to think very much, or ask questions, either. Most don’t. That’s why he won. (Personal note: AA would call me a dry drunk, certainly not a sober person, since I don’t attend meetings any more. To them, sober means “doing the steps.”) (Sober – dictionary definition: not intoxicated or drunk.) I have no desire to drink alcohol.
  
I am a performer. I’m the girl with the guitar on stage. I’m the one in the crystal-dyed top, leaning over a fretted dulcimer with a spotlight on my head. I’m the daughter at the grand piano at my mother’s independent senior living home. The old folks love me, (“Play the piano, Elizabeth!”) and they want to be my friend. But I am in a cage, and on some level it feels like everyone knows that I am naked. 

I am the queen of overshare, or TMI – and my specialty is attention-seeking. I agreed with Marie's suggestion that I might not want attend the monthly Retired Librarians’ Lunch because talking about death is such a downer at a social gathering. She was correct; I might have disclosed too many details about Margaret’s death and monopolized the conversations – Elizabeth, the tragic queen of the Ladies Who Lunch. Marie is correct, of course. But even the Beatles got by with a little help from their friends. And damn it, there was no visitation, no funeral, and no neighbors bearing casseroles. I need my friends! I thought that since I didn't show up, my former co-workers would send me sympathy cards. They did not. Is it being self-centered, to have hoped for this? (Is there anyone whose whole life has been an identity crisis who isn’t self-centered? The selfless ones are the ones whose energy isn’t drained by this struggle). Find me someone “in therapy” who isn’t “self-centered” and I will eat my shoe.

I am someone who is loved by many, liked or tolerated by most, and disliked by others. The support I’ve gotten on Facebook shows me that there are indeed many people who not only want to be my friends—they are my friends. Some of them love me. God bless social media. The people from my church signed a sympathy card and mailed it to me. They care. The pastors like me – I am literate, educated and liberal. (Am I liberal? I don’t have any idea. You’re supposed to be, these days, if you want to be among the intelligentsia. (When I was growing up, you were considered lower-class if you were a Democrat.)

I am known to do anything to avoid my deepest terror, which is abandonment. I hate being ignored. Yet I love cats more than I do humans and certainly more than I do dogs. Go figure.  I am rebellious. I delight in shocking people. I am morbidly afraid of being a “goody-goody,” or too prissy, or too wholesome. That is another part of my personal brand – to be unconventional and outrageous.  I am unusual to the point where finding kindred spirits is a chore.

I am the cousin who was just told by another cousin: “You have always been the most loving, caring person in your family. You wear your feelings on your sleeve.” I thought that was supposed to be bad. I am someone who has always let others define me; in this case, I’ll take it.

I am a mass of cells. I am one of any bodies on the same boat, each on his or her own journey, but I seem to be one of the few who recognizes that we’re all on that boat together. I am the one who rushes in even where the devil fears to tread. (I do not believe in the devil)

I am a collage of obsessions. I am the published author of a roman à clef entitled The Five Notebooks. Yes, it’s on Amazon. Go ahead and buy it and read it. I am told it reads like a diary and that people are embarrassed for me when they read it, but it has good reviews.

I am lost, and I am terrified of being lost. I am someone with literally no sense of direction- north, south, east or west. Do not use those words with me, please. I will have no idea what you are talking about.

I define myself as a person possibly somewhere “on the spectrum,” but I know that this is the hip diagnosis of the decade—ADD to ADHD to Asperger. I look to others for validation, and when I get none, I feel crazy. Actually, I am told that I DEMAND validation. This tortures Marie.

I am the little girl in grade school who always wanted the teacher to be interested in ME. I am the adult who still wants the teacher (mother, boss, pastor, or any other authority figure) to be interested in ME. I'm a misfit. I am probably perceived by most people as boring and lost in my own little world.

I am that mean-looking woman who worked at the library and always looked hateful, because with my face in repose, I resemble my Swedish grandmother. I’ll have you know that she was as silly as they come, but she had a frowning expression. Sorry I don’t have laugh lines; maybe I’ll get some in my next life.

I have a terrible temper and I am the type of person who screams at customer service people who don’t speak English well – yet I did NOT vote for Donald Trump. I think in a lot of ways I am sort of like Donald Trump. This frightens me.

What makes me a unique individual? Why would someone want me for a friend?
  •  I am loyal, nurturing and helpful. I have empathy.
  • I am intellectual. I am creative. I am talented. I am witty. I have “flair.” I am a deep thinker, well-educated across disciplines. Those who like that kind of person will want me for a friend.
  • In a crisis, I am the calm, rational one who knows exactly what to do.
  • I have a freckle on the bottom of my right foot, near my toes. When they put a tag on my toe, it will be easy to ID my body if you know where to look.
  • I have no idea how baseball, football or any other sport is played. I can’t follow it. I had to fake it all through high school. People who hate sports as much as I do might find that amusing.( I also flunked Driver’s Ed. the first time)
  • I was an authority on all makes and models of automobiles at age 5. That makes people laugh.
  •  I am not terrible-looking, and I have pretty hair and I wear hippie/ “boho” clothes. People who think that is cool are going to want me as a friend, because they will think I am cool. I have straight teeth; some people are really turned off by bad-looking teeth.
  • Overweight people aren’t jealous of me, because my skinny figure went away after I was 40.
  • I am passionate and expressive, and I can tell good stories. I am a good conversationalist as long as I remember to listen and not talk too much
  •  I am so clumsy that I make other people feel graceful.
  • I have a tremendous skill set from having worked with the public for 35 years.
  •  I have a silly, sick sense of humor and I write hilarious parodies.
  • I can be diplomatic and polite when I want to be.
  • I am “with it” and on board with popular culture. I am a computer geek.
  • I can be what anyone wants me to be—or, at least, so far I have been successful.
  • I can find an answer to almost every question I’m asked (So why can’t I find answers for my own?)