The entire time I was reading How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell, I was struck by the impact that creativity had on her health journey. It especially resonated with me because her creative outlet was writing and I have loved writing for as long as I can remember.
Although I have never done drugs, Cat’s story reminded me about how creating this blog and taking the time to intentionally write have turned me into a healthier person. I know that drawing parallel’s between Cat’s drug addiction and my mental illness may be strange, but the only intended parallel is that doing something creative helped both of us in our very different situations.
My Bipolar Disorder
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the diagnosing psychiatrist thought my condition was mild enough that I could go with or without medication. I tried a medication for about two months, but without insurance it was too expensive for me to maintain without asking my family for money (and confessing to them that I was diagnosed at a time I wasn’t ready to do that). I stopped taking the medication, and for about a year and a half did not have any major problems.
In 2014, I had a pretty bad concussion. One of the doctors I saw thought that it was possible that the concussion was making both my migraine condition and my bipolar disorder worse (although I didn’t really need a doctor to tell me that). In the years that followed, I started to actually feel like I had bipolar disorder.
Choosing to Medicate
In August of 2016, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I had just finished my classes for my first Master’s Degree a few months before. Since January or so, my bipolar disorder had been fairly turbulent. Despite all of that, I still did not feel like I needed medication yet. I was still getting things done, even if I was not getting things done well.
However, in August I hit a low. There were problems with my family. When I completely overreacted to something because I was manic, I began to realize that I was not managing my symptoms as well as I had in the past. The situations I was dealing with that were causing me stress would have been more manageable if my mind were sound. As I watched my sister get good treatment for her bipolar disorder and become stable, I began to really desire that. I could act stable, but inside I wasn’t actually stable.
After swallowing my pride (and trust me there was a lot of it), I went to my doctor. I sat in the office and cried, telling her that I didn’t feel right. She immediately put me on a dose of medication that changed my life. Within a couple of weeks I found that I was able to focus on things for more than a couple of minutes. Best of all, the racing thoughts and crippling depression were gone. I was finally beginning to be stable.
Choosing to Write
So you might be asking yourself what this has to do with writing. It was around the same time that I chose to go to the doctor and start taking medication that I also realized that I needed a creative outlet. My jobs were feeling especially unfulfilling (even if that feeling was only temporary) and I wanted to have something that I could build and create that was my own.
I had been reading a book or two a week at that point, and thought that a book review blog would be really fun. Because I was especially enjoying biographies and memoirs, I thought it would be great to keep the focus on those books.
Growing as a Writer
When I first started this blog, I didn’t know anything about blogging. I knew how to write, and knew how to use Blogger. I got a free site there and began to write posts weekly (on a pretty ugly site). While I worked at my cleaning job, I began to listen to podcasts about blogging and writing. They gave me a focus and an energy I hadn’t had for a long time.
Since August, I’ve learned a lot about writing and blogging. I bought a domain and moved my blog to WordPress. I’ve started adding more content and asking friends to write guest posts for the blog. And as the blog has grown, so have I.
While the medication has been a big part of getting healthier, medication does not give me self-confidence. Medication does not force me to have self-discipline. Blogging has forced me to build time into my schedule for creating and editing my content.
While there are still Mondays when I don’t post (sorry!), those days are fewer and fewer. I have gotten better at sticking to my schedule, and have gained so much confidence through my writing. That confidence has carried over into other parts of my life. I feel like blogging has brought me to a very healthy place and turned me into a better person.
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How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell was funny, dark and irreverent. It was the perfect guilty pleasure read that had enough good hidden inside it to justify the cringe-worthy content.
Cat grew up the middle child of two psychiatrists. Her father’s temper and the problems between her parents made home life turbulent. In her teenage years, she went to boarding school. It was there that she was first introduced to Ritalin and its ability to take her from failing grades to the top grades in the school. Unfortunately, Cat failed to take her Ritalin as prescribed and her lifelong addiction to prescription medication began. In her senior year of high school, she became pregnant, dropped out of school, and had an abortion.
Cat slowly worked her way back through the depression in the aftermath of her abortion, finding a passion for fashion journalism. As she attended college, she worked as an intern at several different fashion magazines. Even as she began to build a career, though, her addiction only escalated. She added to her prescription medication harder drugs. She spiraled out of control, landing in rehab multiple times. It was only through creativity that she eventually regained some amount of control over her life.
The Inner Life of an Addict
Perhaps I was overly naive to think that prescription medication addicts stole their pills from relatives or bought their pills on the black market. Cat writes extensively about the process of shopping for doctors who would write prescriptions for her, and how easy it was for her to walk in and get exactly what she wanted from different doctors. While there were occasions where she got pills in other ways, she primarily got her medication legitimately. That’s terrifying.
The first time she went to rehab, she did not get better because she did not want to give up drugs. Cat wanted to have a better grasp on her life, but she did not want to give up all of her addictive behaviors. She just didn’t want to feel as addicted as she did.
It wasn’t until she really wanted to get better that she was able to improve her life as much as she did. In the end, she still uses Adderall. She has given up other drugs and even drinking. Although I wanted to get to the end of the book and read about her giving up all of her addictions and addictive behaviors, part of me realizes that with her underlying ADHD she probably needs some amount of medication as treatment. With her history of abusing medication, though, she realizes that she is in a delicate place where she can easily end up back in the the throes of addiction.
The Power of Words
At one point, Cat checked herself into a mental hospital as a way of avoiding rehab. When the psychiatrist realized she was not depressed, she wanted to get Cat to go to rehab. When Cat refused, the psychiatrist called her parents and had them visit. Infuriated, Cat refused to be a part of the conversation with them. After years of bottling up her anger and frustration toward her father, she told him off (with some profanity I won’t use here).
The part that resonated with me was that she didn’t feel the satisfaction she thought she would. Instead, she immediately felt regret. The words she thought would make her feel so good and powerful did just the opposite.
Our words are powerful. I can think of several times I’ve said something that I’ve immediately regretted. Words have the ability to stick with you for years, and you may not even know if your words are the ones someone has carried with them for so long. Even if you’re angry or have been angry for years, it’s worth it to be careful what you say.
The Power of Creativity
At one point, Cat’s grandma tried to help her by having her meet with a life coach a couple times a week. The life coach had Cat take several personality tests. When she looked over the results, she found that Cat was extremely creative. She believed that if that creativity could be properly channeled, Cat may be able to more easily keep herself from depression and addiction.
It was not until Cat came to write this book that she was able to get healthier and fight back against her addiction. She is now able to work from home doing freelance writing. The creativity that writing allows her has given her a lot of fulfillment. It is a part of her personality that she needed to satisfy in order to feel complete.
I love the idea of getting to the core of who we are and what we were really made to do. I wholeheartedly believe that when we fight against our personality in our vocation, it leads to depression and can lead to addiction. And perhaps pursuing our passion cannot always be a career. The things we are passionate about do not always pay the bills, but we can make time for them (even if it’s a few minutes a day). When we find that thing that makes us tick, that passion will shine through all parts of our lives.
There is a lot not to like in this book. Cat Marnell’s excessive use of profanity can be off-putting, since hardly a page passes without some curse word. In addition she uses anti-Semitic racial slurs as well as other offensive language to describe the people in her life. Despite these things, there are enough redeeming qualities in the book that I enjoyed it immensely. Overall, I found her to be funny. Her writing style was excellent. And her ability to capture the inner life of an addict gave me real insight into an addiction I had not given much thought to. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an interesting read about prescription addiction.
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I Will Find You is a compelling and well-written memoir about a journalist’s journey to find out what brought her and her rapist together on the day of her attack. Joanna Connors writes her heartbreaking tale about how her rape changed the way she lived for over twenty years.
Joanna was thirty years old when she was raped by David Francis at a University theater where she had gone to get a story as part of her job as a journalist. It was by catching a glimpse of his tattoo that she was able to give a compelling description to police. They were able to catch him a day later returning to the scene of the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to thirty to seventy years in prison. But even with her rapist behind bars, Joanna went on to live in fear. A year after the rape, she had her first child with her husband. Unintentionally, she hovered over her two children excessively, afraid that they may fall into harm’s way.
After a college campus visit with her daughter, Joanna realized that she needed to put her fear to rest. She would find David Francis and find out what made him into a rapist. Although he told her that he would find her (a thought that once filled her with dread), she was now determined to find him. She gathered the court documents from her trial. Among them, she found his records and found out he had died several years prior. Although she was relieved that she would not have to face him, she also knew that she would not have all of her answers. Joanna found out that David and his siblings had been abused terribly by his father. This abuse, along with an older man willing to mentor David in crime, may have been contributing factors in David’s outcome.
Joanna powerfully reflects on the journey many survivors go through.
I found myself echoing so many of Joanna’s thoughts and words throughout her story. Although our stories are very different, the emotional toll it took is similar. Joanna is one of the rare cases of a rape committed by a stranger, while my abuse was carried out over a period of nine months by someone I knew. Yet there were several times that her reflected thoughts could have easily been my own.
Joanna reflected throughout the book about her guilt over the rape. She wrote that she blamed herself, even though she would have never blamed someone else in her shoes. Her guilt intensified when the attorney prosecuting her case asked her why she went into the empty building. When I opened up about my abuse, an adult I trusted said, “I thought you were smarter than that.” When they said these things, it only confirmed what we were already thinking: “This is my fault.”
“It was not your fault, even if you were drunk, even if you were wearing a low-cut minidress, even if you were out walking along at night, even if you were on a date with the rapist and kind of liked him but didn’t want to have sex with him.”
Joanna also reflected on the fearfulness she felt after her rape. Because of this, she developed a fear of everything around her, to the point that she could not function like she did before. While years of counseling have made that fearfulness less constant in my life, there are still times when I feel afraid for reasons I cannot explain. Men I do not know sometimes make me wary. I startle easily. I’m fortunate that the fear lessens over time, but when it is there, it is very apparent.
Joanna wanted to find out what made her rapist the way he was.
Instead of writing David Francis off as a “bad man,” Joanna wanted to find out what made him the way he was. On her journey, she found out about the abuse he endured at the hands of his father. She found his two sisters, both of which had also been rape victims themselves. Joanna found that in his vulnerability, David was mentored by an older criminal and jailed as a juvenile. In jail, it is possible that he himself was sexually abused.
While not all people who are abused become abusers themselves, those who commit these crimes have often been hurt terribly by other people. Although it is merely anecdotal evidence, the young man who abused me had been abused terribly as a child. I believe that the abuse he endured could easily have been the reason for his actions against me.
I Will Find You is a very powerful book. It is very emotional. It also has mature content. Joanna Connors spends a chapter going into detail describing her rape, so I would not recommend this book for younger audiences, sensitive audiences, or for recent survivors of sexual assault. Additionally, there was some language throughout the book. It was a very good look at one woman’s journey to find answers about what made her rapist into the man he was. As a survivor myself, I enjoyed the rawness of her reflections of what it looks like to cope with a sexual assault.
Why would any sane man with a self-preservation instinct teach a writing class for violent prisoners in his spare time? Mark Salzman, author of True Notebooks, didn’t volunteer at LA’s Central Juvenile Hall because of some idealistic notion of conquering juvenile delinquency through art, one misunderstood youngster at a time. No, Salzman just needed some exposure to young offenders to help flesh out a character in his latest novel, and the writing class was suggested by a friend. Salzman wasn’t crazy about the idea and tried to talk himself out of it by creating a list of reasons this was a bad idea:
Students all gangbangers; feel unqualified to evaluate poems about AK-47s
Still angry about getting mugged in 1978
Still angry about having my apartment robbed in 1986
Still angry about my wife’s car being stolen in 1992
His wife settled his indecision by telling him, “You don’t get out of the house enough.”
Salzman was afraid of these kids at first. They were known as HROs, or High-Risk Offenders. Most of them were there for murder, rape, or armed robbery. They weren’t eligible for CYA (California Youth Authority, which releases offenders at age 25). They were to be tried as adults and sent to state prison when convicted.
Salzman’s recollections of the conversations in that class will alternately make the reader guffaw one minute and shake their head with sadness or disgust the next. The book is filled with actual essays and poems from the kids, most of them shockingly honest. They confess their deepest fears, hopes, and regrets. One of the writing prompts Salzman had given them was to write about a constant in their life; a personal North Star. Most wrote about an important person such as a parent or sibling. Family was always a popular topic, and a lot of the kids expressed regret at how their actions had affected those they love.
Many admit that they don’t really care about gang affiliation or race; that gang-banging is just what they have to do to survive in their neighborhood. Their insight into the foolishness of gangs is surprising. Most of them realize the gang was their downfall, and that their “homies” don’t care about them at all. There is the occasional exception to that though, such as the inmate who said, “The day I get released, I’ll go right back to bangin’. Only I’ll be better at it, ‘cause I’ll have had years of advanced study. Didn’t y’all hear? I’m goin’ to the pen—that’s graduate school on full scholarship, for y’all who don’t know.” Then, of course, there is the occasional piece that’s more what you’d expect from criminals—graphic, immoral, and just plain stupid. Salzman recounts a brief exchange between himself and a withdrawn, sullen student who had never actually written anything before: The boy asked him if he could help him spell a word. Salzman, eager to help him come out of his shell, agreed. The word that the barely literate young thug couldn’t spell? ‘Titties.’
Salzman repeatedly makes it clear that keeping order in his class doesn’t come naturally at all. He constantly worries about an inmate starting a fight, or disrupting class so much the guards have to intervene. Happily for Salzman, although he doesn’t demand respect, he gets it. The kids appreciate his time and don’t want to do anything that will make him stop volunteering for that precious hour every week. Still, the kids couldn’t resist his naivete; they had to needle him occasionally. One young man, Nathaniel (the same inmate who insisted he would go right back to ‘bangin’ if released), pretended to be sorry to the point of tears after a particularly difficult class where Salzman had to reprimand him. Salzman softened at the boy’s apparent remorse and told him, “I’ll do my best, I promise. All I ask is that you make an effort, too.” Salzman then sees that Nathaniel isn’t crying at all. No, he’s trying not to laugh! Nathaniel gives his teacher a reality check:
“I gotta tell you, man—you’re way too nice for a place like this! You gonna get played here, over and over. Only it won’t be by somebody like me, who tells you you bein’ played. It’ll be by somebody who really plays you, for somethin’ that matters.”
One inmate, though, impacted Salzman more than the others.
Kevin Johnson, incarcerated for one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder, was the prisoner who seemed to affect Mark Salzman the most. Kevin’s story was tragic: both his parents were killed in a car accident when he was just nine years old, and he and his older brother both turned to gangs and crime. He was a model prisoner. He never gave Mark any trouble, he was looked up to by the other inmates, and even helped to keep order in the writing class. He earned his diploma while locked up, and mentioned it in an essay:
“Graduating from high school taught me a lot about the courage to keep going. I feel I will make it because the look on my aunt’s and my grandma’s face made me feel like the man I was supposed to be.”
Salzman fought LA traffic for several days to attend Kevin’s trial and sentencing. At trial, he learned the full story. Kevin and a group of friends had gone to a movie theater. They were on their way in, and another group from a rival gang was on their way out. Gang signs were thrown, and someone asked Kevin, “What’s up, cuz?” In gang language, that particular phrase is very threatening. This young man then punched Kevin in the face. Fearing for his life (he claimed), Kevin pulled a gun and shot all three of the rival gang members. Two of them survived, but one of them died before medics arrived. Kevin and his friends fled the scene and went to another theater where the same movie they wanted to see was playing. They got there too late, however, and continued to cruise around the city. They were pulled over and arrested a short time later that night. Salzman wrote this about his thoughts and emotions after the trial:
That night I went to bed with a broken heart… One of my students’ victims had a name and a family now, and I had to wrap my mind around the fact that someone I had grown so fond of, and who seemed so gentle, had been foolish enough to go to a movie theater carrying a loaded gun, violent enough to shoot three people with it—two of them in the back—and then callous enough to want to go to a movie afterward.
Kevin was found guilty and sentenced to a total of sixty-six years, eight months for all his crimes. In spite of Salzman’s ambivalence about what Kevin had done, he took it hard. True Notebooks ended with a poem written for Salzman, sent by Kevin Johnson from state prison. The last line of the poem was ‘Dear old friend, North Star,” in reference to the earlier writing prompt.
This book will get you thinking. The kids featured run the gamut from those who seem to be in the wrong place to young delinquents who appear to be rotten to the core. There’s Kevin Johnson on one end of the spectrum; he expresses remorse, he’s well-behaved and respectful, and he has a great work ethic. One has to wonder if sending him to prison is really the best thing for society. Of course this brings up the issue of justice for the victims, and there’s just no decent answer. Then there’s Ibrahim, who writes stories about a thug named T-Bone who goes around robbing and killing. One fictional clerk was shot for “disrespecting” T-Bone. Salzman asked what, exactly, constituted disrespect. Ibrahim’s shockingly depraved answer? “Tellin’ him to pay for stuff.” This young man genuinely did not understand what was wrong with that. It’s frightening that there are people out there with zero morals or empathy.
More than once I wondered why Mark Salzman kept returning week after week. I’m not the only one; his father and several friends had asked him why he continued teaching the class. After much consideration, he decided that the reason he went there was not because he always enjoyed it, and not because the boys always enjoyed it, but because everyone seemed to agree that it was a good thing to do, and a little good has got to be better than no good at all. That makes a lot of sense. True Notebooks is a thought-provoking, fascinating, hilarious, moving read. Whatever you’re in the mood for, you’ll get your fix. I definitely recommend it.
Since reading Carrie Fisher’s memoir The Princess Diarist, I have been bothered by Carrie Fisher’s strange writing style. As a casual fan of Star Wars, I may have had an unrealistic expectation of who Carrie Fisher needed to be. Perhaps I expected her to be too much like her iconic character, Princess Leia. Putting my expectations aside, I still found her writing style bizarre and decided to find out if her interviews were just as disconnected or if writing was not her ideal medium.
When searching for videos of interviews with Carrie Fisher, I stumbled upon this interview with the Today Show. Carrie Fisher is asked about her book and its contents. Despite being asked questions that were answered in her book, Fisher appears confused, flustered, and confrontational throughout the entire interview.
What Makes Carrie Fisher’s Writing Strange
Although I briefly mentioned some of strange things about her writing in my previous post, the following are the things that I found strange about Fisher’s writing style:
She went on “rabbit trails” frequently. While I do not mind rabbit trails, her use of them made her train of thought difficult to follow.
Her stories seemed to divert from reality. When reading memoirs, regardless of whose memoir I’m reading, I’ve generally chosen to believe that everything in it is true. However, some of what she wrote was so far from reality that I find it difficult to ignore. While none of those things were related to her affair with Harrison Ford (the main topic of the book), they are still significant. Most notable was one entry in her nineteen-year-old diary about a fish coming to her on a flaming pie, then falling out her window and later going on to show business. Perhaps she was speaking in metaphors, but that whole entry was so strangely written that I read it a few times. Other passages, though not as strange, similarly seem to divert from reality.
The tone of the entire book seems angry. Yet in several places she actually writes things to try to say, “I’m not angry about this,” or “I don’t hate this; I actually love it.”
Carrie Fisher’s Style is Her Own
After watching this interview, I have come to the conclusion that the strange writing style Fisher adopts is not because of her being an actor first and a writing second, but because her writing truly reflects her personality. Throughout the Today Show interview, I saw many of the same things that I saw in the book.
Carrie Fisher appeared very confused by the questions that the ladies were asking her. At one point, they asked her if Harrison Ford made the first move in the affair, and she immediately said no. Getting flustered by the question, she began to protest their questions, and they pointed out that nothing they were asking wasn’t already in the book. Fisher joked that they should read the book, then. They re-worded the question, then, to ask if she made the first move, and she said that she was drunk and surprised, implying that she did not. She answered “no” to both questions, implying that she did not understand at least one of them.
I also saw some of the same angry tone that I saw throughout the book in this interview. Perhaps some of the questions she misunderstood put her on edge, but Fisher appeared to be very aggressive in some places in this interview. While she also tried to keep it lighthearted, it felt to me as if she was just angry about the whole thing. She even mentioned at one point that she was not sure how she felt about having confessed what she did in her memoir. Perhaps the consequences of publishing the book have been upsetting to her, putting her on guard for these interviews.
Finally, I noticed that she was changing topic and getting stuck in the middle of sentences. While that is a perfectly normal thing to do while being interviewed, I believe that it also reflects her writing style well. It is my conclusion that while the whole of her style of writing seems strange to me, it is very authentic to the voice of Carrie Fisher and who she is.