Archive for the ‘depression’ Tag

Dark Night of the Soul   10 comments

What was your hardest scene to write?

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I don’t write comedy (except occasionally, satire), so my characters are often struggling with damage, flirting with an abyss while struggling with the escalating tension of their unmet desires, wants and needs.

The intermediary step where they still see some light can be a challenging construction – showing Shane fighting for his community, trying to keep moving, all the while carrying around a “dead body” of guilt that seeks to drag him into the darkness. Showing him as functional but damaged is a balancing act, but not the hardest scenes to write.

The ones I hesitate over writing are the dark nights of the soul when the character reaches a place where no light can enter and they don’t even have a glimmer of hope for the future. That’s a painful place for anyone to be and conveying that strains my skills. I’ve walked through my own dark nights and come out the other side into the misty sunlight of promised redemption and therein lies the struggle for writing such fictional scenes. I know there’s light beyond the darkness. If a dark night catches up to me these days, I know there is hope on the other side. I instinctively want my characters to know it too. And, yet, they can’t know it because they’re not clairvoyant and when you’re young, you don’t have a catalog of life experiences that inform you the darkness is merely temporary.

Shane can’t feel that there is hope because he’s descending into darkness and it’s all he can see and I have to dwell with him in that terrifying place for however long it takes for him to get through it. †

As a character-driven writer, I allow my characters to tell me their story – not just the events, but their emotions and motivations. Shane is a reluctant informant. He doesn’t like talking about his damage. He doesn’t like me invading his privacy. He would rather I just hint instead of writing when he loses another piece of his soul. Readers can guess at what happened. He doesn’t need to be devoured for my art.

Of course, that’s a cop-out. I probably have some PTSD from my own dark nights. I need to walk through them with Shane so that the readers can sympathize, even empathize, with his pain. And I need to write Shane as not anticipating light, even as I know there is light just beyond what he can see.

One reason I write from multiple points-of-view is that sometimes one character will refuse to share the gory details, but another character can observe their agony and that takes away some of the sting. It also gives the reader a little buffer from the turmoil of the damaged character. There are emotions readers (and authors) don’t want to experience. Of course, we want the reader to empathize with our characters because that creates a bond between the character and the reader – a feeling that the reader is part of the story.

So what is the hardest scene I’ve written? That’s a hard question to answer because they stop being hard after I write them and I choose not to hang onto past resentments. Apparently, that personal ethic influences me as a writer as well. Writing a tough scene is like jumping into an icy Alaska river – it takes your breath away and you’re pretty sure you going to die, and then you recover and swim to the shore and it quits being a death-defying feat. It becomes a pleasant (if painful) memory where I overcame the cruel Alaska wilderness – a source for funny stories. So I frankly don’t remember the struggle because I overcame and it’s time to move on. Still, I can guess at which scenes stressed me out while writing them.

Frankly, if I’m honest, the hardest scenes for me to write are plotted, but not written yet. Shane is entering his pivotal crisis of the series. (The series has an ensemble cast, so it may not be THE pivotal crisis of the series). The book that publishes this fall will have some hard scenes in it, but the next book — that’s going to be like giving birth. I’m also working on the yet-unpublished “What If … Wasn’t.” Peter is a young man being released from prison after serving a manslaughter sentence for killing someone he loved. He’s not as dark and morose as Shane can be, but he’s got some horrible memories to live with and, it is a challenge to show that he hasn’t been defeated by his past, but that he walks a fine line between self-hate that could lead to suicide and hope for a future few people want him to have. And for me, as always, is the recognition that while I, the “deity” of this fictional world, know there’s hope — the character and the reader don’t.

Economic Armageddon?   2 comments

The Great Recession. We have probably all heard of if not lived through a recession. If a recession occurred today, what would you do to sustain your lifestyle? What changes would you make?

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So, I’ve calculated that this is the 4th deep recession I’ve lived through. There was the 1970s Stagflation recession, the Alaska Great Recession of the 1990s, the US Great Recession of 2008 and still continuing by some definitions, and the current Alaska recession caused by OPEC manipulation of the oil markets.

I’ve studied enough classical economics to know that depressions and recessions are part of the natural economic cycle. They have occurred many times throughout history. While they scare the snot out of a lot of people, they aren’t as bad as we have been taught to think they are.

Image result for image of savings

The singer Della Reese once gave a quintesential definition of a recession and a depression:

“It’s a recession if you don’t have a job; it’s a depression if I’m unemployed.”

Seriously, a recession and depression are very similar. Generally a depression is more severe, but not necessarily in the long-run because prices fall along with wages, while in a recession wages fall while prices often remain quite high and sometimes even go up.

So, what would I do if another recession hit? Well, it’s more like — what am I doing now? When the Recession of 2008 hit, Brad and I had just paid off the majority of our debts (except our mortgage), which meant that we had a little more latitude than some of our friends who were debt-leveraged up to their eyeballs. We had been living a fairly spartan life for a few years to get our debts under control, so we didn’t particularly panic when jobs dried up. Brad opened his own company, sometimes took jobs with the union when he could and we learned to live on my salary. The hard part was when I lost my job in 2012, but I was only out of work for about six weeks. It wiped out our savings, but we met our bills.

Since then, we’ve not really reclaimed a lavish lifestyle. We don’t go out to eat. We don’t have a cable bill. We look for clothes at the second-hand store before we buy new. We burn wood to save money on diesel fuel. We don’t have credit cards. We use our debit cards, saving 20% in interest, and we bank our extra money as savings. We’re not as good as my mom was at it. We don’t have the kind of reserves I would like to have. Mom lived through an actual Great Depression. She was willing to do with a whole lot less than we are. We’re spoiled.

I think we’re probably better prepared for a depression than we are a recession because prices fall during a depression and it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that prices today are way WAY over inflated. Just do a little research on how much it costs to manufacture or grow some items and how much it costs us to buy them. Yes, it should always cost more to buy something than it costs to create it — that is a necessary profit — but when you see such a wide difference, you can be assured a market correction will eventually come about. These days it’s being prevented by government interference in the markets, but eventually, it will become inevitable because we are way overdue.

People who have saved money in those instances are the fortunate ones because their dollars are stronger in a depressive economy. What’s more, banks usually tighten their lending standards, which includes raising the interest rate on loans, which means your savings interest rate also increase, so you make money on having money in the bank. Still, having savings in a recessive economy is still a good idea. It is certainly better than holding debt. Brad and I would hunker down, not change our lifestyle a whole lot, and wait out the crisis. Because his skills will be needed regardless of the economy, we’d still have an income, albeit not one we might wish we had. I’m still of a mind that if you can’t find work in your field, find work where there is work, so I would find something that would pay the bills … assuming my current job went away, which it might or might not.

I should also point out that in a national recession, Alaska almost always does better than the national average. We joke that we’re protected by the Great Barrier Reef of Canada. Canada really doesn’t have much to do with it, but our resource-based economy does. Because we have oil and minerals and demand for those does not go down during a recession, our economy takes less of a hit. Unfortunately, when the price of oil drops really low because OPEC decides to once-again corner the market, Alaska then struggles with a recession, which is what’s going on here now.

So what are Brad and I doing? Yeah, living a frugal lifestyle and banking as much savings as possible. If the markets started booming again like they were in the 1990s, we’d have enough sense this time around to sock it all away in the piggy bank and look to the future.

The secret to dealing with a true deep recession is to not spend all of your money or live a really lavish lifestyle supported by debt during times of plenty. Then, when things turn downward, you’ve got some wriggle room. By planning ahead, you eliminate the need to panic.

 

Weird Words   7 comments

List posts can be all sorts of things. As a writer, I decided to pursue a language-related list. I wonder what my fellow blog hoppers are listing.

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Language changes over time. The meanings of words change. Thanks to the twists and turns of language and the convoluted history of English some words end up quite different from their original meanings. as the following bizarre etymological stories illustrate.

A blockbuster was originally a bomb

Related imageThe original meaning of a word might be hiding in plain sight, and this is one of them. Originally, a “blockbuster” literally meant a bomb large enough to destroy an entire block of buildings. The first blockbusters were produced by the Royal Air Force during World War 2. The earliest one, weighing an impressive 4,000 lb (2 tons) was dropped on the German city of Emden during an air raid in March 1941. The wartime press was quick to pounce on the nickname “blockbuster”, and soon it was being used figuratively to describe anything and everything that had an impressive or devastating effect. The military connotations gradually disappeared after the war, leaving us with the word we use today.

Girl was originally a girl or boy

When Geoffrey Chaucer wrote of the “young girls of the diocese” in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales (late 1300s) he wasn’t just talking about young women. In the Middle English period, “girl” meant “child”, regardless of the gender of the child under discussion. That beban to change in the early 15th century, when the word “boy” – thought to be a “borrow” word  from French into English around a century earlier to mean mean “slave” or a man of lowly birth – began to be used more generally for any young man. As “boy” began to change its definition, “girl” also migrated its meaning.

Under the same class of gender-bending words, “bimbo” also experienced a sex change over time. Italian immigrants to America had a word “bambino” that meant “baby boy.” As American English often does, the word “bimbo” emerged around the dawn of the 20th century to mean a menacing, brutish bully or a dolt. In 1920 a Broadway song entitled “My Little Bimbo Down On The Bamboo Isle” referred not to a brutish man, but to a beautiful, voluptuous woman. Nobody really knows what instigated the change, although one theory suggests that both muscle-bound heavies and voluptuous women both risk being admired more for their appearance than anything else. Uh, yeah … that sounds unlikely. No matter what inspired it, the term “bimbo” came to be all but exclusively attached to women, to the extent that an exclusively male equivalent, himbo, had to be invented in the late 80s to redress the balance. Yeah, we don’t use that word much.

Alcohol was originally eyeshadow

Image result for image of kohl eyesOkay, this requires the Way Back Machine. The ancient Egyptians made their distinctive jet-black eyeshadow out of the mineral stibnite, which was crushed and heated to produce a fine dust that could then be mixed with animal grease to make a cosmetic paste called al-kohl, from an ancient Arabic word “the stain” or “the paint”. Alchemists and scientists of the European Middle Ages then picked up this term from Arabic-origin textbooks, and began applying it to all kinds of other substances that could be produced through similar means – which included the distillation of wine to form its purest essence, ultimately given the name “alcohol”.

A cloud was originally a rock

The Old English word back of our modern word “cloud” was clud. It didn’t mean “cloud” back in the day. It meant “rock” or “mountain”. Think about mud “clods” and it makes sense. Enormous grey rainclouds can appear (albeit with a little imagination) like enormous grey masses of stone. It’s thought that these two meanings became confused, and eventually the meteorological sense of the word won out to give us the word we use today. Uh, yeah, that makes about as much sense as anything else.

A cupboard was originally a table

A cupboard, quite literally, was originally just a board on which to place your cups, or basically a table. In the early 16th century, the older meaning began to disappear from the language and a cupboard was no longer a tabletop on which to display one’s crockery, but a covered recess in which to store it. By the 17th century, people were beginning to store food in cupboards, while the author Wilkie Collins was the first to find a “skeleton in his cupboard” in 1859.

A handicap was originally a fair exchange

There’s a pernicious old myth that claims the word “handicap” refers to beggars, wounded by war and so unable to work, relying on begging with their upturned caps in their hands just to make ends meet, but the true origin of the word is much more bizarre. Originally, it referred to a means of securing a fair deal once popular among medieval traders. Two parties offering goods for exchange would call upon a neutral third party to oversee the deal. The trade umpire would assess the value of the goods involved, and give the owner of the less valuable goods a cash figure that they would have to add to the deal to make it fair.

Both traders would then take a small gratuity or a token amount of cash in their hands, and go to place their hand inside the umpire’s cap. If both agreed to the deal, they would drop the cash into the cap, which the umpire would get to keep as his fee for securing a fair deal and the deal would be done. If only one or neither trader agreed, the umpire would get nothing and no deal would go ahead. It was from this image of the value of individual items being assessed and compared that the first handicapped horse races were introduced. The notion of the better horses in a handicapped race being intentionally weighted down meant the word “handicap” eventually came to mean a hindrance or disability.

A meerkat was originally a monkey

We all remember the cute little meerkat in the Lion King. The name “meerkat” probably has its origins in markata, a Sanskrit word meaning “ape”. This word was then picked up from central Asia by European explorers and traders in the early Middle Ages who altered it to meerkat, a Dutch-inspired word essentially meaning “sea-cat”. In this sense, the word probably became little more than a placeholder for any four-legged animal that originated overseas, and was ultimately first used in print in 1598 by a Dutch merchant sailor to refer to a South American monkey, rather than an endearing African mongoose.

A moment was once precisely 90 seconds

“Moment” has its origins in the Latin word for movement, momentum. In our time, it means a short period of time. Oddly, the word “moment” wasn’t always so general. In the Medieval period, the 24 hours of the day were each divided into four 15-minute segments known as points, which were further divided into 10 shorter segments known as “moments”. A “moment” is precisely one-fortieth of an hour – or exactly 90 seconds.

A treadmill was originally a prison punishment

Image result for image of a stairmasterYeah, there is a connection between between gym equipment and the hard labor punishments doled out in Victorian prisons. The original “treadmill” was an enormous man-powered mill used for crushing rocks and grinding grain.

Invented by a 19th-century engineer named Sir William Cubitt, the original “treadmill” was essentially a never-ending staircase (I’ve seen this horror at Planet Fitness) – a wheel of steps encircling a vast cylinder attached to a millstone, on which convicts could be gainfully employed for many hours a day. Oscar Wilde was made to toil away on the “treadmill” during his imprisonment in Reading jail in 1895. Prison reform after the turn of 20th century made Cubitt’s “treadmill” a thing of the penal past, but the term was resurrected in the 50s during the post-war vogue for health and fitness, and became applied to an item of gym equipment likewise comprised of a (seemingly endless) foot-powered belt.

Image result for image convicts using a treadmillLanguage is always changing and evolving. Remember when “sick” meant you weren’t feeling well. When my son says he just “solved sick problems” today it actually means that he climbed at the rock gym and he  managed to conquer a number of challenging routes.

While we may be surprised to find out how the definitions of these common words and phrases started out as something completely different, it really shouldn’t surprise us because language is a very malleable thing. A person uses a word wrong or deliberately changes the use and in a generation or two, the meaning completely changes.

It’s pretty awesome, actually.

 

Posted December 5, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Interview with Angelika Rust   2 comments

I’m interviewing Angelika Rust, the author of The Girl on the Red Pillow. Angelika is from Austria, which I got wrong on the first question, but loved the answer so much that I had to run it, even if it shows I’m less than perfect.

Austria! It’s Austria…I’m sorry. It doesn’t make much of a difference, neighboring countries, basically the same language, but…imagine telling a Scotsman he’s English, or a Canadian he’s American. Let’s just say that during the football (soccer, in the US) season, you’ll find that your average Austrian will cheer for any country as long as it’s not Germany, and leave it at that 🙂

 

I think the language difference makes this story even more remarkable because it is written in English and I couldn’t really sense an accent to the writing. Tell us something about yourself, Angelika.

About me, I’m in my late thirties, blissful mom of two, and happily married to a German (and luckily, neither of us has the slightest interest in football). For a living, I teach English and do the occasional bit of editing or translating. For fun, I write fantasy. Apart from The Girl on the Red Pillow, I have a series called Tales of Istonnia, which is a blend of fantasy and mafia. I could live on coffee and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I have a real knack for patching up jeans, but when it comes to gardening, the dandelions are winning and the dog won’t stop digging holes in the lawn, which the kids will fill with water to cook poisons and potions.

 

The Girl on the Red Pillow is sort of a descent into madness, ascent into sanity story exploring generational demons that many of us carry with us. What was the genesis for this project?

Originally, I wanted to write a book about the comical aspects of depression. Which, of course, is a contradiction in itself, as there’s nothing funny about it, unless you have a morbid sense of humor. (Which I have, but that’s not the point.)

Depression has been an interest of mine for some time now. There are a few cases in the family. For people who don’t suffer from it, it’s hard to understand and even harder to bear. Mood swings, breakdowns, inexplicable shyness, inability to leave the house for the simplest of tasks like going to a store…you can’t lead a normal life with a depressed person, and you’ll soon notice that there’s a wall between them and you, that something is keeping them in. Whether you’re the depressed one or the one watching has no real impact on one outcome: you’ll get angry. You’ll want to tear down that stupid wall. You’ll want someone to blame. That’s where I started writing The Girl on the Red Pillow, taking fantasy elements to express what’s going on in a depressed mind.

There are those who will tell you that it’s only a question of keeping your serotonin levels up, be good, take your meds, it will all be well, but that has never struck me as a satisfying approach. I’m a firm believer in the theory that if you hurt, you should cry. Bottle up, and one day you’ll explode. Depressions rarely come out of nowhere. Even if they are sort of a chemical reaction, I can’t help thinking they are triggered/enhanced by certain events – in case of The Girl on the Red Pillow, those events are traumatic childhood experiences – plus, they can be hereditary. Those generational demons can be a lot of things, from simple behavior patterns to very real sicknesses, and confronting them can serve as an exorcism.

 

What were some of the literary influences for the story?

There weren’t really any literary influences. I’ll admit, there’s an Alice in Wonderland reference, but that one sneaked in when I was almost finished writing the book, so it did nothing to shape the story. Musical influences though, I could talk all day about those. A short time ago, I went and compiled all the songs that either inspired parts of the story, or are sung or alluded to throughout the book. Have a look: http://angelikarust.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/my-books-tracklists-girl/

 

Annalee, the main character, has a lot of wry humor as she deals with facing her issues. Is she based on anyone in your real life?

Wry humor, dry humor, morbid humor, black humor – I grew up in Vienna, where the spoken language is sarcasm, paired with a close affinity to fatalism and death. So in a way, you could say Annalee is based on me. Or on a big part of the Viennese populace. Really, we’re worse than the British in that respect.

 

The book deals with family demons — the family secrets that follow us from generation to generation and that we often are unaware of as we grow. In this case, Annalee becomes aware and seeks a way to live with this dysfunctions. Can you talk a little bit about that?

We are often unaware, that’s precisely the problem. We rarely step back and question that which we are used to, and as humans, we have this amazing ability to get used to a lot. And we don’t talk enough about the things that pain us, thus tend to put up with more than we might need to. We accept that we hurt, and since we’re used to it, we think it’s normal and don’t go around talking about it. Why talk about what you can’t change? But by keeping silent, we rob ourselves of the chance to find out that maybe, it’s not normal at all. Maybe, had we spoken up at some point, someone would have told us, hey, what you’re going through isn’t average pain, you shouldn’t accept it, you should fight. You have the right. That’s the hardest thing, I think, to find the strength to believe that you have the right to fight your emotional burdens, to shed the weight of a guilt not your own. The worst about depressions, though, is that you’ll find that you can’t talk, even if you want to. It’s that stupid wall. And the fact that the wall is imaginary doesn’t make it any less real, or any less hard to get over.

Angelika’s books can be found at:

The Girl on the Red Pillow

http://www.amazon.com/The-Girl-Pillow-Angelika-Rust-ebook/dp/B00HB30BWQ

Istonnia Tales (Rat Tales #1)

http://www.amazon.com/Ratpaths-Tales-Istonnia-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00DVIP17A

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