Category Archives: Writing and Social Media

How empathy can compel you to become a storyteller

Empathy turned Jennifer Lawrence into an actress. During a 2018 60 Minutes segment, Jennifer Lawrence revealed that she had no formal acting training and relies solely on empathy:

During the interview, she further revealed that sensing another’s feelings and letting go of her own identity comes easily to her, allows her to focus, and is tremendously rewarding.

Jennifer Lawrence (from 60 Minutes transcript): … That’s what I crave —that really getting lost into something, being almost possessed by another emotion. That’s the adrenaline rush, that’s the high that I can’t live without.

Lawrence described herself as a poor student, a misfit, and hyperactive in a traditional school setting.

The 60 Minutes segment is just as much a testament to parents who were able to step back and get to know their unconventional child and let her become who she was meant to be.

Unfortunately, so many children’s talents are wasted and their spirits crushed by school systems that subscribe to one size fits all.

But I digress.

Empathy can seem like such a hindrance. It can hurt to constantly sense others’ pain and many other emotions through their body language, facial expression, and notes in their voice.

Writing enables me to release many of those feelings by telling others’ stories. When I write, the characters appear in my thoughts and, at times, acting out premises results in their dialogue. When I get into flow, I experience a rush as well.

Did empathy turn you into a writer or another type of storyteller?

 

 

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Antifa, why oh why?

Trying to learn
Learning to try
Antifa, why oh why?

Inauguration Day 2017, a man dressed in black, his face obscured.
The body of a professional athlete.

SMASH…
Violence

Was he hired by the oppressors to discredit the peaceful protestors?
Antifa claimed him.

Antifa
Why oh why?

But I do know why… alienation, injustice, electronics addiction, immaturity, learned helplessness

Antifa… all that passion, can’t you channel it constructively?
All the youth for whom it will be worse
Much, much worse if the opportunities slowly disappear

Losing our rights though sleight of hand, sleight of law, elitism, and the increasing power of the soulless…

Antifa, don’t hasten the haters
Performance art doesn’t have to include violence….
Mentor those youth who are walking through your pain…


I tend not to finish my poems or much of my fiction. This poem isn’t finished either, but I have been inspired by a fellow blogger (thememoirofawriter.com, Stained) and am posting it anyhow as the image from Inauguration Day 2017 that inspired it has been haunting me for a year.

I am remembering that I did include a few poems in Dream Walking and that I should do the same in Baby Fever its sequel.

Zinzi Clemmons raw, honest, compelling recent novel What we Lose (Guardian review: A debut of haunting fragments) uses one paragraph and one-page chapters to provide rhythm to the story and engage the reader.

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Gritty YA fiction

Not every teen reader can relate to wizards or cheerleaders. Such a Pretty Girl, Rules of Survival, Shelter, and Stealing Heaven deal with gritty themes such as surviving incest, child abuse, and homelessness. Along with providing inspiration, these realistic teen novels offer compelling, streamlined story telling that should appeal to adult readers as well as teach empathy.

Shelter
Beth Cooley’s 2006 Shelter (Delacorte Press) is a reverse Cinderella story. When Lucy’s father dies, overnight she must adjust from living a sheltered upper-middle class lifestyle to living in a shelter with her mother and younger brother. Lucy’s mother has not worked outside the home in years and navigates the maze of finding employment that will get them out of the shelter. Lucy struggles to find friends at her new high school, excel at school to secure a scholarship, comfort her brother, and overcome the pain of the friends who deserted her once the money ran out. At first, Lucy dreams of getting her old life back, but eventually she appreciates her newfound resilience and her new life. Cooley crafts engaging characters and skillfully creates suspense out of the family’s struggle to exit the shelter.

Stealing Heaven
What if you have been brought up to be a high-class thief? If that premise intrigues you, so will Elizabeth Scott’s 2008 Stealing Heaven (Harper Teen). At eighteen, Dani is finally old enough to choose her own destiny. She becomes legally responsible for herself, but eighteen also means that if she were to get caught stealing, she would be charged as an adult and end up with a permanent criminal record.

Nothing dirty, nothing violent, just scamming wealthy people out of their silver summarizes Dani and her mom’s heists. The demands of her mother’s chosen career include constantly moving across the country and creating phony names and identities to go along with each move.

Dani’s fight to find her own identity is further complicated when she meets Greg, a cop, and struggles with keeping up her guard while getting to know him. Ultimately, Dani must choose between Greg and her mother who happens to also be her employer.

Such a Pretty Girl
Laura Weiss’s 2007 Such a Pretty Girl (Pocket Books) masterfully portrays a mother who is a consummate love addict and who idolizes and physically craves her husband to an irrational degree. Her denial is so great that she convinces herself that teenage Meredith, her only child, is to blame for seducing her own father.

When the story begins, Meredith’s father is getting out of prison after three years instead of the nine he was originally sentenced to serve for molesting her. Her mother sold their house to finance an expensive attorney who got his sentence reduced on a technicality. Meredith is terrified. Her mother not only completely dismisses her fears, but also prompts Meredith to help celebrate her father’s return by saying, “I put touches of color in your father’s condo, too. I think he’ll be pleased. Oh, and I took three steaks out to thaw so now is not the time to go into that silly vegetarian kick.”

The suspense builds as fifteen-year-old Meredith fights off depression as she plots to keep herself from getting raped once again by her father.

Rules of Survival
Matthew, the son of a sadistic single mother, narrates Nancy Werlin’s 2006 Rules of Survival (Penguin Group). He is the oldest of four siblings and their protector. The first rule of survival is pretending. Pretending that everything is OK. Pretending that each time you get beaten up will be the last time. Pretending that you are the adult. This novel captured the art of switching gears from fearing for your life to acting as if everything is perfectly OK.

The author captures the slow spiritual awakening of Aunt Bobbie and the father and the world through the eyes of a teenager struggling to keep his spirit from breaking in the face of a troubled, violent parent.

How does a child escape a dangerous parent, stay out of foster care, and keep his siblings together? Staying alive is the first challenge. Keeping his siblings alive is his second challenge. Matthew’s journey is mesmerizing.

Do you know of any other superb gritty YA/teen fiction?

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“Heather the Totality” by Matthew Weiner

Provocative. Evocative. Compelling. Matthew Weiner’s debut novel Heather, the Totality delivers characters who will linger in my imagination for a long time. Characterizations are captured in short, visually stimulating scenes that keep the action moving and the reader reflecting on karma, the many nuances and challenges of parenting, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment.

“Her parents weren’t bad people, but they were living in a self-righteous delusion that they deserved everything they had,” Matthew Weiner, Heather, the Totality.

I can’t remember the last time I was disappointed by a non-fiction book that I read based on a review. I’d say I’m batting less than 1,000 when it comes to fiction I have chosen based on reviews. One best-seller was written from four points of view… that all sounded like the same whiny character.

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What Donald Trump could learn from the NFL

Integrity. Colin Kapernik had the courage to use his platform to make a statement, to force us to dump our cultural denial, to start a conversation, to make things better.

The NFL brings joy and community to so many Americans. Football gives youth something to look forward to, an outlet that helps them concentrate in school, strategic thinking skills, physical fitness, and teamwork. (It needs to figure out a way to make tackling safer. I vote for touch football until 18… but that’s a separate issue.)

Donald Trump is the most thin-skinned, negative celebrity I can recall. Make America Great Again? More like, Make America Hate Again.

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Filed under Democracy, Education, Humor/Stand Up Comedy, Writing and Social Media

Healthcare maze inspired fiction

Ever since I became aware of Bernie Sanders’ platform in the fall of 2015, I have become a bit obsessed with healthcare, because he spoke single payer. Mathematically, it is the only system that makes sense, whether by each state or by the entire nation.

I have several novels started, but only one published, Dream Walking. Recently, it occurred to me that two of my novels were inspired by two distinct healthcare journeys.

I conceived Dream Walking twenty years ago, and it has been through many incarnations. Georgia’s journey through trading addictions and the mental health system is harrowing at times, because although there are many variables in the mental health equation, many of them are not addressed in conventional treatment.

Although brain disorders (a more accurate term than mental illness) and addictions are often braided, they are separate conditions and each needs its own treatment. The subconscious plays a huge role in addiction, which generally is not properly recognized, let alone effectively treated.

I am in the process of writing Baby Fever, a sequel to Dream Walking, which was inspired by my journey toward motherhood. I was a recurrent miscarrier, and then as time ran out had trouble getting pregnant. Without Fern Reiss’s The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage and the detective work of three amazing high-risk obstetricians, I would never have either of my two children. I ended up needing low-level intervention, but if your doctor can’t figure out the underlying issues, it’s hopeless.

For those with overactive imaginations, it’s much easier to tell a story through fiction than memoir.

What’s beyond anyone’s imagination is the twisted and torturous economics that lie at the foundation of our healthcare system. Elizabeth Rosenthal’s compelling An American Sickness details the triumphs of the special interest groups that brought us to where most of us are today — one devastating accident or illness away from bankruptcy and needing a PhD in medical coding to interpret a hospital bill.

 

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Every Song Tells a Story

Some songs are better at storytelling than entire novels or movies. The nuances of the music, the lyrics, the tone, and the emotion of the singer quickly take you through the main character’s journey. Two recent songs come to mind.

Every woman who has a habit of falling for “bad boys,” can relate to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”. These two lines sum up the fix, the rush, that instant, intense romance provides.

You can tell me when its over
If the high was worth the pain

Novelists spend pages and pages establishing characters, but what better way to describe a spirited young woman with a self-destructive streak than these seven words:

I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream

Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” laments the aftermath of the endless party enabled by designer drugs and the fall from popularity of a pop singer.

But you don’t want to be high like me
Never really knowing why like me

On his blog, Mike Posner details the evolution of the song, and the elaborate and unusual mixing process he came up with to showcase the lyrics.

Ironically, the song didn’t become a monster hit until a couple of Norwegian music producers called Seeb produced a dance club version of it, which is a story unto its own.

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