I’m Unexpectedly Entertaining

Not like funny ha ha or dramatic or anything like that sort of entertaining, alas. A very dear friend from Oregon has arrived, and I haven’t got anything pre-written, so I’m afraid it’s the cat for you lot again.

I got her with her eyes open, for once:

It was a sunbeam sort of day. We haven’t had many of those. And she was annoyed because I’d had the audacity to make some sort of noise.

I’m afraid she finds me a failure as a personal assistant. Sigh.

Anyway, whilst I’m busy, do go entertain yourself watching Jen take on the Burzynski Clinic and leave nothing but scorched earth and perhaps a few melted syringes behind.

Oh, Yes. Yes, This Makes Me Happy

Yeah, so I wasn’t having a good night: noisy neighbors, totally blocked, gloomy about various and sundry, just about to give it up as a bad job and go straight to bed. But, y’know, I’d got YouTube pulled up, and there was that Tristania song I hadn’t heard in a while, and then an Epica song I’d never known existed, and then, and then… Long story short, I ended up on a gallop through some new symphonic metal. I’ve discovered a few new bands I believe I’m falling desperately in love with. And then I found this:

I love Tchaikovsky. I love metal. Combining the two has made me a very happy Dana indeed. I even got some writing done. Amazing what an infusion of fresh music can do for the creative process, isn’t it just?

This is life, people. It may suck sometimes, but it certainly has its moments. And sometimes a moment is all you need.

Dana’s Dojo: Talking Heads

Today in the Dojo: choosing the right spokesperson and keeping the voices from turning your multiple POV masterpiece into Babble-on.

 

The problem with a Cast of Thousands is that everybody wants to be a star. When you choose the third person point of view, limited or not, you open the door to a flood of potential narrators, all of whom want to tell the world about their part in the drama. Some of them just seem to want to tell the world about their drama, and be dramatic doing it. It’s like wading into the crowd at a big premier with a camera crew and a microphone: people who would have been content to be part of the background are suddenly pushing themselves into the lens, grabbing the microphone, and telling all.

I know that when you’re in the middle of the crush, it’s hard to believe you’ll ever get something useful out of it. The impulse is to scream, flee and go write something nice and first person after barricading your door against the masses. But you don’t have to. You can wrestle order out of the chaos. Wade right in: you’ll be grateful for all those spotlight hogs once you’re through.

Step One: Choose your Stars

In a multiple POV novel, you’re probably going to have more than one star. People like to yammer about the main character, and there’s some books where one character is the megastar, but there’s just as many where one character barely edges out others as the be-all and end-all of the story. That’s fine. There’s room for more than one star in just about any show.

What you want is star power with a good, solid supporting cast. You’ve probably already got a good idea of who the stars are: they’re the people the most things happen to. But you’ve also got these incredibly talented folks that really interesting things happened to. It’s tempting to give them the spotlight a bit more often than you strictly should. And it can be very hard to tell the difference between Starring and Also Starring.

This is where knowing what the novel is ultimately about will help save you. If your novel is about the Free Weasel Foundation triumphing against the Evil Fur Coat People, you’ll know that the two freedom fighters who ultimately dodged all the security, courts and police and released the captive weasels in a dramatic nighttime raid are the true stars. That will keep you from getting ensnared by the CEO of Furs, Unlimited who is having a crisis of conscience and slowly turning vegetarian. You won’t be so tempted to turn to story toward the freedom fighter who, after a vicious bite from a weasel, sells out the FWF to its enemies and goes on to be a fur-coated runway model. Your focus will stay on the two heroes, where it belongs.

In special cases, you may discover that you mistook one of the stars for supporting cast and vice versa. It’s quite all right to go back and make the switch. Just make sure you don’t fire the star halfway through without revision – you’ll have to rewrite the opus so that the new star was the real star all along.

How many stars should you have? Probably no more than two or three in a mega-opus, perhaps four at the outside. More than that, and the reader’s focus gets spread too thin.

Step Two: Choose Your Supporting Stars

Your supporting stars are those really interesting folks who complicate the stars’ situations and star in their own subplots. They’re important to the main story, but not as much as the stars.

They’re the buggers who will be really persuasive about hogging the spotlight.

But you can’t just kick them out. Let’s go back to our premier-crowd metaphor. The stars of your interview are, say, the mother and best friend of the actor whose movie is opening. The supporting stars are the blokes who have some experience with the actor: the kid who overcame cancer because of the actor’s support, the old friend who got drunk with the actor and his best friend and taunted the actor into becoming an actor in the first place, that sort of thing. Maybe your interview was focusing on the how the people closest to the actor affected his stardom, but these folks have something important to say about the actor, and they can’t be shushed. They add to the picture you’re creating. They have a hand in his life, too.

So keep sight of your goal. You want the FWF heroes to free the weasels. But the CEO and the Disillusioned FWF Chick complicate the heroes’ situations and add important insights to the story. If you show those bits of their stories where the heroes aren’t directly involved but which impact the heroes anyway, and leave out those bits that have nothing to do with the path to weasel freedom, they’ll have a lot to add.

Supporting stars are really limited in number only by the size of the novel. If you’re writing an epic, you’ll probably need quite a few. In a regular novel, not so many. It’s up to you, but use the acid test of: how much can this person really add? If the answer is lots, then let them have a say.

Step Three: Be Firm with Others

You will be tempted by really entertaining extras. You know, you never meant to give so-and-so a speaking part, but he’s got this really quirky accent and a funny thing he does with a banana and a condom that’s to die for… Yeah. Maybe in another story. After all, DVDs come with special features and deleted scenes: there’s no reason you can’t take all those talented extras and give them starring roles in short stories that can come out after the book. Right? Right.

Stars should do most of the narrating. Supporting stars should do the rest. Only in the most extreme situations should you have a talented extra stepping up and narrating the action. Only in the most extraordinary situations should you allow an extra a moment in the spotlight that really hasn’t much of anything to do with the main plot and subplot.

I don’t care how persuasive they are. Tell them no. It’s a simple word, two letters, one syllable: NO.

And mean it.

Righty, then. You’ve got the respective stars sorted out. You’re ready to write. However, it’s not all smooth sailing. Because the stars, being stars, are often going to be starring in the same scenes, and if you’re switching between multiple points of view, how the hell do you decide who gets to be the viewpoint for this particular scene?

There’s an important word you need to have handy. It’s “argh.”

If you’re so inclined, you could add an “oshit” if you like.

There’s a calculus to this, only it doesn’t come in neat little packets of mathematical symbols with one single correct answer at the end. Let’s just do our best with it, shall we?

Equation One: Who’s There?

This is the easiest equation. If you’re picking the viewpoint for a scene, you’ll probably be best to go with someone who actually viewed it. Hearsay works no better in books than it does in court. There are sometimes exceptions, but generally, you’re safe going with the people who were actually there.

Equation Two: If It’s a Star and Supporting Star, Then…

Gets stickier here. Generally, in this case, you’ll pick the star. But there are times when you want to see the star through other eyes. There are times when your star will understand something you don’t want the reader to catch on to just yet. So in those special cases, you’ll pick one of the supporting stars.

Equation Three: Who Did Most?

Another way to choose is to pick the folks who aren’t lurking around the fringes of the scene. Think of it as a cocktail party: you want to be in the thick of the big conversation, not getting the dish from the guy lurking by the cocktail wienies. You’ll generally go with the viewpoint who’s the most active, even if there’s a star over there by the buffet snarfing sausage on sticks.

Equation Four: Who’s Loquacious?

If you’ve got players of equal qualifications as far as star power and vantage point, pick the one with the most interesting way of portraying it, or has the more intriguing take, or suffered the most, or has some other little edge. Yes, you may have to write the scene from different viewpoints until you find the right one. Yes, that’s extra work. But it’s worth it.

Equation Five: What’s the Scene Really About?

You might think it’s about the main action (two people falling in love), but don’t be blind to the fact it might really be about something else entirely (third star seeing first two stars fall in love and having to painfully confront feelings for one or both lovebirds). In such cases, you’ll go with the character whose viewpoint says the most.

These methods work for both supporting stars and superstars. There’s a lot more to the calculus, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. Once you’ve run through those bits of it, the rest usually sorts itself out. Often, anyway. And if it doesn’t, banging head against wall, having a shower, and playing five hours of the video game of your choice might let your subconscious solve the problem all on its own.

And Now, the Really Big Question: How to Keep the Views Balanced

Be le bel auteur sans merci, that’s how.

I’m not going to give you hard-and-fast rules, but here’s a some guidelines:

1. Give the most scenes to your stars. After all, they are the stars.

2. Cut out scenes that don’t serve the main story. If they creep in there during the first draft, don’t worry about it. That’s what those little scissors on your taskbar are for. You just have to be brave enough to use them. The acid test for any secondary character’s scene, no matter how good it is in and of itself, is how well it serves your main plot and subplot(s).

3. If the subplots are trying to become the stars, set ‘em down. Subplots are there to enhance the main plot, not outshine it. If the subplot doesn’t feed into and support the main plot, time for ye olde scissors again. Tell the supporting stars to can the complaints: maybe they can be the superstars next time around, but not this time.

4. If the subplots insist, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Seriously. If the subplot is so much more interesting to you than your main plot, if it’s constantly trying to take over, the two might need to switch places. Nothing wrong with that. Do what the story demands.

That’s really what it comes down to. That’s it: keep it star-centric, keep the supporting cast supporting. And when things go awry, as they will, have faith in the scissors.

Los Links 11/25

At last, Los Links. Pretty heavy on the pepper spray, alas. Address complaints to Sergeant John Pike, UC Davis Police. But only if you’re wearing a face shield.

 

 

Occupy Wall Street

Good: ‘Books Are Speech': Why the OWS Library’s Destruction Is So Upsetting.

Slobber and Spittle: The Limits Of Force and Quote Of The Day.

UCDavis Bicycle Barricade: Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.

America Blog: OMG Cops pepper-spray UC Davis students, point blank in face, who are just sitting there doing nothing.

Kevin Drum: Video: UC-Davis Police Casually Pepper Spray Sitting Protesters.

Wonkette: A Children’s Treasury of American Cops Brutally Attacking Citizens.

Oregon Live: A face full of pepper spray vaults Occupy Portland protester to Internet fame, albeit painfully.

The Atlantic: ‘Standard Police Procedure’, The Moral Power of an Image: UC Davis Reactions, and The Cops We Deserve.

Cosmic Variance: Brutality and UC Davis Physicists to Chancellor Katehi.

Decrepit Old Fool: Violence for violence.

Moral Low Ground: Retired NY Supreme Court Justice Karen Smith Roughed up by Cops for Intervening in Brutal Beating of ‘Occupy’ Protester’s Mom.

AlterNet: More on Police Departments’ Collusion in Defense of 1%: Who’s the Organization Coordinating Those Crackdown Calls?

Myrmecos: I was wrong about #OccupyDavis.

Huffington Post: Militarization Of Campus Police.

Daily Kos: OWS Participants – Your Rights Under Federal Law if You are Pepper Sprayed & Why You Should Sue.

Hullabaloo: Police, pain and peppers.

Speakeasy Science: Fox News Food Products.

Mim’s Bits: How Amazon Reviews Became a Vehicle for Protest.

The Atlantic: The Occupy Movement’s Woman Problem.

Quote and Comment: Excerpt from UC Davis 2010-2012 General Catalog.

SF Weekly: W. Kamau Bell: “Stop Talking Shit About the Occupy Movement”.

Rolling Stone: UC Davis Pepper-Spray Incident Reveals Weakness Up Top.

Whiskey Fire: Ghosts of a Different Dream.

The Loyal Opposition: Pepper Spray at UC Davis.

Compound Eye: Why One Pepper-Spraying Cop Image Dominates.

 

Penn State

AlterNet: Child Rape, Penn State and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad?

 

Science

Mountain Beltway: Friday fold: mafic metavolcanics.

Looking for Detachment: The Contact at Contact.

Master Organic Chemistry: Organic Chemistry Is Shit.

Scientific American: A New Creation Story.

Eurekalert: Princeton release: Massive volcanoes, meteorite impacts delivered one-two death punch to dinosaurs.

Environmental Graffiti: 15 Most Incredible Plunge Waterfalls on Earth.

Wooster Geologists: Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Belemnites (Jurassic of Wyoming).

Telegraph: The ethereal beauty of melting icebergs, captured by photographer Paul Souders.

Geotripper: Hey! It’s not my fault! It’s San Andreas’ fault…A Creepy Story and Wandering Around Inside a Volcano: Exploring Pinnacles National Monument.

GeoKate in the Bay State: Metamorphosis of a Superhero.

Andrew Alden: Geoscience Makes Progress in California High Schools.

Lounge of the Lab Lemming: Migrating dinosaurs and oxygen isotopes.

The Loom: Are we the teachable species?

Paleoseismicity: New paper on the Japan 2011 tsunami and implications for paleotsunami research – Updated.

Laelaps: In Evolution’s Race, Horseshoe Crabs Took a Slower Pace.

Science With Moxie: SwM meets #Sfn11 Day One: Words, Pitch, and Rhythm.

Earth: Voices: Harassment of scientists reaches a fever pitch.

On Art: Leonardo da Vinci’s earth-shattering insights about geology.

New Scientist: Watery secret of the dinosaur death pose.

ABC News: What If Greenhouse Gases Weren’t Invisible?

The Scicurious Brain: Impulsivity, addiction, and your synapses.

Bad Astronomy: New satellite gets INSANELY hi-res view of Earth.

The Globe and Mail: As a brain surgeon, I know patients’ futures before they do.

Wired Science: Why Do Police Officers Use Pepper Spray?

Ancient Shore: Nothing But Blue.

Metageologist: Metamorphism: open or closed?

Glacial Till: Mid-Week Meteorite Fun: Undulating Olivine, Clinoenstatite, Planar Fractures, oh my!

Switchboard: “Use-By” Dates: a Myth that Needs Busting.

Tuff Guy: Pantelleria, A Volcano With A Trapdoor.

Wired Science: Beautiful Destruction: 11 Gorgeous Geological Maps of Volcanoes.

Volcan01010: All the software a geoscientist needs. For free!

 

Writing

Diabetologia: What does an Editor look for?

The Business Rusch: How Traditional Publishers Are Making Money.

Slate: The Underachiever.

Copy Law: What Not to Miss When Drafting & Negotiating Your Book Publishing Contract.

Wicked & Tricksy: So You’re Thinking About Self-Publishing…

Nail Your Novel: I self-published – should you too?

David Palumbo: So you plan to commission a book cover?

Neil Gaiman: On Doughnuts, Posters, and remembering Anne McCaffrey.

EditTorrent: When grammar elements go out drinking.

Reporting on Health: Small Lessons from Michael Berens’ Big Investigation of Senior Abuse.

The Passive Voice: Something Else Penguin/Book Country Should Be Ashamed Of.

The Digital Shift: Penguin Restores Kindle Lending, but Still Not Providing Digital Editions of New Titles.

“Pretentious Title”: How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day.

Women’s Issues

The Drum Opinion: Men call me things: it’s not as romantic as it sounds.

IPS: Women Push Back Into Public Space.

Butterflies and Wheels: Blot her out.

Lousy Canuck: Girls online: damned if you do, don’t, or simply ARE.

 

Atheism and Religion

Almost Diamonds: Preacher at the Funeral.

Maryam Namazie: I wish I were there with you.

Butterflies and Wheels: The rules.

No Longer Quivering: How Modesty Made Me Fat.

WWJTD: What I’m Thankful For: Respect – *Real* Respect.

 

Politics

The Pump Handle: Young farm workers at greater risk of dying on-the-job, proposal to protect them called “detrimental,” “foolish” and “idiotic”.

Slobber and Spittle: History, Blah, Blah.

X-Blog: “Gentlemen Shall Lean to the Left”.

Slate: Rule of Lord.

Move On: Top 5 FOX Myths To Debunk This Thanksgiving.

BlueOregon: Ballsy: Kitzhaber stops all death penalty executions for his term in office.

The Spirited Atheist: Christian politicians exalt suffering in GOP campaign.

Climate Progress: Top 10 Reasons Republicans Were Wrong to Kill NOAA Climate Service.

 

Society and Culture

The Rumpus: Silhouettes.

Skepchick: Twilight: Breaking Wind.

In Focus: A Trip to Bhutan.

The Answer Sheet: ‘Exemplary’ Texas school taught only two subjects.

Nieman Journalism Lab: How a photographer generated over $100,000 through Facebook.

The Oatmeal: Thanksgiving.

XX Factor: Porn That Women Like: Why Does It Make Men So Uncomfortable?

You’re Under No Obligation to Read This

I didn’t even mean to post it. It’s just a person pouring out pain on the internet. But if you want a look at what it means to deal with mental illness, then you can read on. If not, amuse yourself with my cat, partake of the other excellent offerings on the toobz, and wait for Los Links.

I spoke to my aunt today. We’re not a close-knit family: I haven’t actually talked to any of them since my grandmother died, several years and two cities ago. But Mom scared me enough that I went on a hunt for people I haven’t talked to in ages, because I needed to know what was actually going on.

And it’s ugly.

My mother’s disease has progressed to the point where she can barely function. My demented 90 year-old grandfather is actually doing the driving for them now, because she can’t even make it down the road to his house. How he remembers to pick her up, I have no idea. But you know it’s bad when it’s the guy who should be the caree becoming the carer.

There’s other stuff, and I won’t go in to it. But it’s gotten bad enough that her sister and her brother have been trying to find residential care for her. And apparently the doctors are saying that she’s just going to get worse with age. If they can get her to sign the release form, I’ll be able to talk to them directly about that. But considering she’s been out of the hospital for just about two months now and is rapidly deteriorating to the point where she’s going to have to go back, I don’t doubt that things are getting worse. There may be no more good days.

I’ve already lost my mother. I lost her to this disease a long time ago. The woman she was has been gone since I was a teenager. I’ll probably tell you about her sometime. She was incredible. I know most kids are partial to their moms, but she really was extraordinary. She was everybody’s mom. Our entire neighborhood loved our house, and loved her, because she always had activities and adventures for us, so much time and love. And she’s still a very loving person, but she’s been like a child for a long time now.

When she had her first breakdown, once we got her committed, the doctors were able to bring her back. She was my mother again. The problem is, she felt well, so she stopped taking her medicine. You can’t do that when you’re bipolar. And she entered this vicious cycle for a while where she’d have a psychotic break, get medicated, think she was better, stop taking medicine, and descend once again. And they were able to bring less and less of her back each time, until she became a shadow of what she used to be.

But she was still a wonderful person. Everyone loved her. She was like a child, a very simple person, prone to yammer on about her animals and her family, both of which were the most important things in her life. She married a violent alcoholic and only left him for good because he threatened her dog. She didn’t care about herself, but she loved that dog. That fucking dog saved her life.

And then she moved back to Indiana to help out with her mother, who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She’s stayed there ever since. It was supposed to be temporary, but she and her dad need each other.

It’s been mostly okay. She’d had a few times where she ended up in the hospital, but she’d usually come out stabilized. But over the last several months, possibly longer, she’s gotten dramatically worse. And now begins the coulda-shoulda-woulda, because I don’t know how much of her is left and how much they’ll be able to get back this time. We had an adventure planned. I didn’t go out there over the summer because I got busy, and then she got hospitalized, but we’d thought, someday. Someday, when she isn’t so busy with her dad. Someday, when she’s a little better. Someday, when I’m a little less busy with things here. Someday.

There may never be a someday. Right now, I’m wondering if I’ll ever see her again, and if I do, if I’ll recognize her.

I’m looking in to options to make sure she’s taken care of. My aunt and uncle have their hands full trying to take care of their dad; it’s tough for them to take care of her, too. I’m far away, and there’s no job market back there. If I try to move, all I’m doing is giving up a good union job for probable unemployment. Won’t be able to support myself, much less her. Even with this job, I can’t afford her treatment, and she won’t come out here anyway while her dad’s alive. There are few options for poor people. She’s lucky to be disabled enough that she gets some care from the state – she’d be dead without it – but I have no idea if I can get her care in Washington if we try to get her out here. These are things I’ll have to investigate, before we even try to talk to her about her future. And I can’t bring her here without having a facility to bring her to.

I’ve tried living with her before. It was too much for one person to handle even before she got this bad. I can’t help feeling like a selfish shit over that, but this isn’t something I can do alone. But I’m sure as hell not tearing her away from her family only to have her put in a nursing home. The only way I’ll bring her out is if we find a good assisted living facility that will make her happy. I know they exist. I just don’t know if we can find the resources to pay for one.

And then there’s the fact that even if we can, it might not be a good idea to install her in a strange city, where there’s only me.

These are the kinds of things that those sanctimonious bastards who preach about personal responsibility and sacrifice never have to face. They don’t value lives like my mother’s. They don’t have to make the choice between a job and a relative. They don’t have to worry about their loved ones ending up dead because they can’t get them the treatment they need. According to them, I should have planned my entire life around her disease. I should have gone out and got rich, because I knew this day was coming, didn’t I? Never mind that so few of us can join the 1%. Never mind that we can’t afford the education that might have given us a shot at that. Never mind that no health insurance company in this country would take on a bipolar person, that mothers don’t qualify as dependents for your own health insurance, that even if they did, the mental health care it pays for is laughable when it comes to seriously ill people. Even my vaunted union-negotiated Cadillac health insurance pays well for mental health care. It wouldn’t even cover the necessary doctor’s appointments and medications, much less the 24-hour care she’s going to need soon, and really needs now. My insurance is for functional people.

And I’m not alone. I’ve got friends dealing with the same dilemmas. They’ve got a mentally disabled relative on their hands, and there’s so damned little they can do. Some of my friends sacrifice everything they have to care for their relative. Some of them don’t have to just yet, but might soon. Some of them have discovered that no matter how much you want to help, no matter how much of yourself you give up, you still lose.

But you don’t give up. You can’t.

So that’s life right now. It’s not like other people aren’t dealing with their own crap, and a lot of people have it far worse than I do. And I’ll get it figured out. It sucks, it’s painful, it’s life. We go through some shit, and then, usually, it gets better.

There’s this spark of hope: she sounded a little better today. So maybe, just maybe, there’s still a someday. We’ll try to get there.

One step at a time…

I’m Running Late. Have a Cat.

I’ve spent most of the day on the phone with various family members. The problem with getting in touch with people you haven’t spoken to in years is that you get caught up in catching up, and then all your cunning plans for finishing Los Links go right out the door. I could do it tonight, but I’m not gonna. Got fiction writing to do.

I’ll have them out sometime during the day. In the meantime, I shall distract you once again with my cute cat.

This is her idea of being an aid to the creative process. Isn’t she cute? You can even, if you look closely, spot the bright white spot on my arm where she bit me once. She is the reason I will never ever own a tiger or other wild cat. That temptation, never strong, ended the day we were playing and she nearly bit my arm in half during a moment of enthusiasm.

People wonder why I love such a violent little beast. But I mean, really, it’s hard not to love this face:

And she doesn’t bite nearly so hard as she used to. She’s merely quasi-evil now.

Mental Illness Strikes Home. Again.

Funny we should be having this conversation about skepticism and mental illness now. I called my mother for her birthday today, and it’s clear she’s on her way to another psychotic break.

We’ve been down this road a thousand times. She’s severely bipolar, and her medications frequently stop working. She ends up anxious and paranoid and confused. It’s painful to watch. There’s nothing you can do except ensure she’s getting treatment. They’ll probably hospitalize her soon to stabilize her, and for a while, she’ll be okay. Then the vicious cycle will begin again.

It’s not this way for every bipolar person. Medication helps many of them stay stable, and I have friends who have managed the disease without any spectacular crises for years. My mother’s not so lucky. But with treatment, she’s able to function. Without treatment, she would be dead. Literally dead. There was a point when she was determined to kill herself, because she believed bad men were going to hurt her family to get to her, and death was the only way she could protect them.

Medication has taken those delusions away, and they rarely come back now. But she still has these times when paranoia starts to return. She fixates on strange ideas, and can’t remember anything else. We go round and round in conversations, circling back to the same simple points, and she’s incapable of remember things as basic as how long mail between Washington and Indiana takes, and where a store is. She’s too paranoid to drive. Luckily, she’s disabled enough that the clinic comes to pick her up for treatment, and keeps a very close eye on her.

So this is my weekend: trying to get in touch with family members who can keep an eye on her until Monday. Calling the clinic to make sure they’re aware of her symptoms, because she’s very good at hiding them even when she’s far gone. Trying to do all of this on the sly, because right now she trusts no one, and if she found out what I was doing, she wouldn’t trust me. Trying to sift reality from her fantasies, so that I know what’s actually happening and just how bad it is. And then we have the delicate task of trying to get her to sign a release form so I can have a more direct hand in her treatment, because we’ve reached that point now where the rest of the family may not be able to help. Not with her believing they’re out to get her. Not with her father in the throes of dementia.

One of the reasons I want to see the stigma of mental illness ended is because when so many people believe it’s all in a person’s head, and they could get well if only they really tried, there’s no push to solve these issues. We need research done that will lead to more effective, science-based treatments. We need to understand how these diseases begin and unfold. We need to know causes. And when we think that people are just imagining things, or not strong-willed enough, or don’t believe in God enough, this doesn’t get treated like a medical problem. It becomes a character problem. It becomes the type of problem no one wants to waste time and research dollars on because hey, isn’t it the fault of the sufferer? And we go haring off in the wrong direction.

Things are better now than they used to be. But they’re still not good enough. And people like my mother suffer.

The thing that enrages me the most is that she didn’t have to suffer this way. But she’d grown up in a society that told her that mental problems were horrible character flaws. She internalized the idea that admitting to being mentally ill meant she was a bad person. She thought she’d be locked away forever in a terrible place, a Thorazine zombie. She thought she was a failure as a wife, mother and human being if she admitted she was crazy. And that kept her from recognizing the disease when it began. It allowed things to progress to the point where medication can’t do more than allow her to function. The longer a person’s left untreated, the worse they get. And she refused treatment for far too long. When a person is in such dire straits that they qualify for involuntary commitment, it might be too late for a little medication and therapy to bring them all the way back.

We’ll hope for good enough again. And for the people who come after her, we’ll work for treatments that turn a catastrophic disease into a manageable annoyance, and a society that understands that mental illness is something you treat, not something you hide in shame.

Grab Some Tissues and Watch This. Then Take Action.

JT Eberhard, my darlings. One of the bravest fucking human beings I know. Watch his Skepticon IV talk and read his post.

I’ve got nothing much to add to this. I wrote up a whole big post on it once and then never posted it, because honestly, my occasional tussles with depression are stubbed toes compared to what others go through. It may not always be like that. Bipolar disorder runs in my family right alongside the heart disease and cancer and Alzheimer’s. I’ve learned to watch the highs and lows with minute attention, because it’s off to the doctor the instant they cease to be within normal range. I refuse to go through what my mother did, descending into a hell we didn’t know enough to rescue her from until it was almost too late.

That’s the thing. Society doesn’t talk about this shit nearly enough. So when your loved one starts displaying the signs of a mental disorder, you have no idea what’s wrong or what to do. And there they are, crushing themselves with guilt, because it’s all in their heads.

My family and I know that’s true. It is all in your head – because that’s where you keep your brain, and your brain isn’t working properly. Just like diabetes is all in your pancreas, and heart disease is all in your heart, and ulcers are all in your stomach.

But too many people think that “all in your head” means you can think your way out of the situation. They’ve not been there. They don’t know how impossible it is to think your way out. You might as well try healing cancer or a broken leg with your thoughts: it’s just as effective.

And there are a lot of people making perfect the enemy of the good. Our treatments for mental illness aren’t yet perfect. The brain is complicated, and we’re just beginning to understand it. But an imperfect treatment is better than no treatment at all.

It takes a fuck of a lot of courage to come out as mentally ill. But here’s what I want: I want it to take no courage at all. I want a world in which people with a mental illness can bring it up as casually as someone with diabetes or epilepsy or any one of a billion other diseases can mention it. I want a world that won’t judge them as broken because of it. Don’t you ever believe that people with a mental disorder can’t lead full, productive, and amazing lives. Not with JT standing in front of you. Not with Greta Christina taking the world by storm. Not with my mother working her ass off taking care of my elderly grandfather and who knows how many strays. Not with so many people doing brilliant and beautiful things, who also happen to be one of the 1 in 4 who’ve got a few kinks in the gray matter.

I want a world in which there are effective, science-based treatments improving every day, and the means to access them, for everybody who needs them, with no barriers to said treatment.

I want a world in which everybody realizes that mental illness is just another neurological disorder, and no more the fault of the sufferer than aphasia or Parkinson’s is.

Skeptics, atheists, humanists: let’s make it so.

Near Seattle? Bored? I Haz Solutionz For Ye

So, you don’t shop (or you’re done shopping), you’re sick of hanging round the house looking at relatives and leftover turkey, and you’d like to go do something interesting with your life. Possibly even with your relatives.

I haz things for ye.

Burien Little Theatre’s Inspecting Carol opens this weekend. Saturday’s date night will get you two-for-one tickets if you order by email or phone. I believe Sunday’s sold out, but the play’s on until December 18th, so you’ve got a little time. It looks hysterical – don’t miss it. I’ll be going either next Sunday or the one after – if you’re interested in heading down there with me, let me know, and we’ll make a day of it.

On Monday night, the Forum on Science and Ethics Policy has an event you might want to partake of:

FOSEP will co-host the Science on Tap talk on November 28th at 7pm at Ravenna Third Place Pub. A clinical veterinarian from SNBL (Preclinical Services for Drug Development) USA will present “Drug Safety and Animal Research – No safe alternatives”. This presentation will discuss why animals are needed for certain laboratory studies and the role of alternative solutions in animal research. Please note, that this talk does not reflect the views of FOSEP or its members in line with our non-advocacy position; however, we are excited to work with Science on Tap!

I’m hoping to make it, but I’d dedicated this weekend to the gods of NaNo. Even an atheist doesn’t fuck with them. But we’ll see if I can negotiate a temporary release.

So there you go. Things to do! People to see! Fun to be had!

As for my non-Seattle area readers, I’m afraid all you can do is look on us with envy. That, or find local events of your very own.

Cleared for Adventuring

I’m afraid I shall have to negotiate joint custody for my car.

Most people don’t end up with these dilemmas. It’s hard enough to find one mechanic you trust, much less two. I have a mechanic I adore – Jay’s Kirkland Autocare. They’ve always done a fantastic job with no fuss and bother. Plus, they have a view of the Olympic Mountains nearby, and they’re right by the heart of downtown Kirkland, where there’s Earthlight, one of my favorite rock shops in the universe. And Lake Washington is within walking distance. I can even get my hair done. There’s nowhere better to drop ye olde auto off on a warm day.

However, they were booked solid for the week when my car threw a spectacular tantrum on Tuesday night. I have this thing about being without transportation – I hates it. And I was afraid, due to the fact that the engine had died, the steering and ignition completely locked, and the thing put on a rather amazing light show, that this repair was going to take time anyway. So I called round, and ended up having it towed to Ali’s in Woodinville. Mind you, this is Wednesday morning, right before Thanksgiving. They had openings, and they would’ve sent a mechanic to have a look at it where it had broken down if they hadn’t been too busy to spare one. Srsly. Gotta love that.

So Totem Lake Towing picked me up at home, grabbed the car, dropped me back off, and got her in. Later that afternoon, I discovered my car is a drama queen. She’d run out of gas. Yes, on the way to the gas station, of course. And with the lights on when I’d tried to restart a few times, and the hazard lights going while we fetched gas, her battery had drained. That was the root cause behind all that fuss with the electrical system and steering and ignition. Note to readers: if you have got a newer car, and you suspect it’s run out of gas, and it subsequently acts as if absolutely everything has broken, just try a jump start. Sheesh.

Seeing as how Enterprise had already picked me up and put me in a nice little Ford Focus for the next two days (lighted cupholders, people. Economy doesn’t get any classier than this!), I told Ali’s they could hang on to her if they liked, and do the maintenance she’d been screaming about for the past several hundred miles. They had her all ready today, and had even given me nearly half a tank of gas to get me on my way. And they’re some of the sweetest people I’ve ever spoken to. Enterprise dropped me off there (seriously loving them right now), and I’ve got my baby back with a perfectly clean bill o’ health.

And the look on the mechanic’s face when I told her that little Civic had made it to the top of Paulina Peak was worth everything.

So adventures will be had. We’ll have more stories to impress folks with, plus plenty o’ blog fodder. And I’ve now got to figure out how I’m going to split the maintenance between two mechanics I love. It’s a good dilemma.

And I just want to take this opportunity to tell State Farm how much I love them. They didn’t even blink when I told them they’d be getting a towing bill. They were perfect angels last year when I wrecked my poor Sentra.

I also want to give a shout-out to Geoff and Caeli, who rescued my sorry ass in the rain on Tuesday night, and Rich, who helped us push a severely locked-up car into a safe spot. Between awesome friends and outstanding businesses, this has been a positive experience.

Which sums up why I’m not unhappy my car is a total drama queen.