Book recommendations, chronic illness, reading

Book Review: Cull by Tanvir Bush

As an aspiring author, I’m always on the lookout for new authors that inspire me. This book appeared in my Bookbub offerings in February, and I was immediately interested, for obvious reasons. The title and the cover speak volumes. (see pic below)

It’s disturbing to hear so many stories about disabled people being further victimized by the attitudes and prejudices of the healthy. When the government jumps on board to legislate discrimination in the guise of rooting out the lazy, lying abusers of the system, the results are truly frightening.

Are there people that abuse the welfare system? Absolutely. Should all people who are already dealing with the challenges of chronic disability live in fear that they will be accused of ‘milking the system’? I won’t answer that, but we know that it happens all too often.

When I first had to give up teaching and go on disability, one person said how lucky I was and that I should go surfing. Um…okay? It’s ignorance, a blissful ignorance of not knowing what it feels like when your body betrays you and all the things you have taken for granted, are taken away. I wish everyone such ignorance.

For those living that reality, further victimization through government policies is very much part of the whole journey. I am fortunate in Canada to have been supported through the process but I hear horror stories from people in the States and the UK about fighting for benefits and not having enough money or proper insurance to afford medication or adequate healthcare.

We know the effects of stress on the human body, and on chronic illness in particular. I can’t imagine living in that kind of fear day in and day out. Tanvir Bush has taken this situation, and in a brilliant satire, given the power back to ‘the crips’. Her protagonist is blind, as is she, and she has the most amazing guide dog, Chris.

Her writing is exceptional, the way she describes the world from the dog’s point of view is brilliant, and overall this book highlights so many important facets of a world that is disturbingly similar to ours. You want to read this book! Amazon links below.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Website for Tanvir Bush and The Holey Vision Blog

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

❤️ Amanda

Book recommendations, chronic illness, mental health

Depressed? Read this book!

Not much to report here, except that the gnomes and ogres are still having their dance party. I’ve just tried to stay busy doing jobs around the house when the energy permits, getting outside every day, reading a ton and binge-watching Outlander in anticipation of season 4 coming out on Netflix.

I started reading a book I started in the summer, and I had to share it. If you need some perspective, and some good laughs, I highly recommend Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. She is also known as The Bloggess and has a thing about taxidermy, as well as an interesting perspective of the world from living with mental illness her whole life.

With chapter titles like “Koalas are Full of Chlamydia” and “Voodoo Vagina”, this is not a self-help book. Yet somehow, it’s very helpful in its own bizarre way. Here are some nuggets from the sections I’ve been reading:

“My psychiatrist told me that when things get rough I should consider my battle with mental illness as if I were “exorcising a demon” and I was like, “Well, no wonder I’m failing so miserably. I’m shit at exercising.”

“Like my grandmother always said, “Your opinions are valid and important. Unless it’s some stupid bullshit you’re being shitty about, in which case you can go fuck yourself.”

“Did you know that kangaroos have three vaginas? Because they totally do and that’s probably why they’re always hitting each other. They probably have PMS every damn day of the week. But on the plus side, kangaroos have plenty of places to smuggle things, with so many holes in their bodies. In fact, they’re so full of holes it’s sort of shocking that all the kangaroo doesn’t just leak out.”

Okay, so she’s random. Maybe that’s what I’m responding to, along with her complete honesty about living with mental illness. I have tremendous empathy for people who live with mental illness throughout their lives. This is new for me, depression was not something I had experienced until two years ago, and so far it has come and gone within several weeks – fingers crossed this time. Living with this feeling day in and day out over years, takes a special kind of fortitude.

It is only in sharing our experiences and being honest that we will break the stigma of mental illness. It is the most rampant of all the invisible illnesses, and it’s time that it was taken as seriously as physical ailments. There should be no shame in admitting that you’re struggling, and it’s important to reach out and ask for help if you’re not coping. You are not alone.

Do you have any books about depression, anxiety or other mental illness that you recommend? I’d love any suggestions in the comments. Links for the book below for your convenience.

Have a wonderful week!

❤️ Amanda

Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things

Amazon.ca: Furiously Happy

Amazon.com: Furiously Happy

Amazon.co.uk: Furiously Happy

music, reading, writing

The World According to Garp and John Prine: Double whammy kismet

It’s strange how you make a simple choice, then the universe sends you signs that it wasn’t a simple choice at all, there is a reason you made the decision you did. Kismet.

In the summer, I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to read The World According to Garp by John Irving again. He found a beautiful 30th anniversary edition at Russell Books, our phenomenal secondhand bookstore, for my birthday.

I recently finished the book, at 606 pages it’s not a quick read, but definitely worth it. I enjoyed its blend of comedic tragedy and serious social observation as much this time as the many other times I read it. Then, this interview with John Irving appeared on CBC the other day, discussing how the book should be a period piece but is more relevant today than ever on its 40th anniversary.

The World According to Garp is a book about sexual violence. Irving wrote it in 1978, in a time when it was still unusual to have a transsexual character. Roberta Muldoon, a former tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, remains one of Irving’s favourite characters.

He doesn’t endorse the 1982 film starring Robin Williams because he felt that Williams was too sweet to play the character of Garp. More problematic, he felt the character of Roberta was satirized, not allowing John Lithgow to exude the power of the character that Irving imagined and portrayed in the novel. He saw the film as making a joke of the whole LGTBQ community, which was the opposite of Irving’s intent.

A mini-series is in development, 5 parts, 55 minutes each. Irving is involved this time, so it will be fascinating to see how it comes alive in that format. I need to watch the film version again, I only saw it once years ago. It will be interesting to watch it again, knowing Irving’s position about it.

I used to say I wasn’t a political person, but the truth is in the broad sense, we are all political in every choice that we make every day. It doesn’t mean we are following every absurd political news story. The way we behave in the world, the way we treat other humans, those are our politics. What we stand by and put up with when the oppressors walk all over the minorities, those are our politics. Our apathy, the lack of reverence for the right to vote, those are our politics.

It’s a fairly long interview at 45 minutes but very interesting, particularly if you’re a writer, but also his commentary on the politics of today. There is a reason he has lived in Canada for the last three years, and plans to become a Canadian citizen. His ultimate philosophy is “You have to be kind.” Simple. True.

In another wink to kismet, they mention John Prine in the interview. I had never heard of him but he’s an American country folk singer and songwriter that has been around since the 70s. He recently released a new album, The Tree Of Forgiveness, and my husband found these incredible videos on Youtube. I’m not a country music fan in any way, but these are wonderful songs. Enjoy!

Summer’s End – Get some tissues ready.

When I Get to Heaven – Listen for the dad’s awesome advice near the end! 🤣🤣🤣

NaNoWriMo update: I did it, I got to 50,000 words, which technically means that I won. My goal though, is to get a proper edit done on all twenty chapters. I’m only on chapter 10, so… not so on track. But I’ll get there! Good luck to any other wrimos out there!

Have a wonderful week everyone!

❤️ Amanda

Book recommendations, MS, reading, writing

Writing: From Phobia to Freedom

Any writer is a reader first, and I’ve always been an avid reader. However, when it comes to which books I read, like most things with the monster there are two parts of my life: before relapse and after relapse. Having RRMS, I’ve obviously had many relapses. I’m talking about the life-changing, brain-frying relapse that hit me in December 2015, before I had a diagnosis. That story is here. I’ll call that relapse Ralph.

Before Ralph, I was voraciously devouring the classics and literary fiction that make up my husband’s extensive book collection. He once dared me to read Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, a wee book of 1536 pages entirely written in letter format. Epistolary is the technical word, apparently. Sounds like a virtual urinal 😜. Clarissa ended up being one of my favourite books of all time. Don Quixote by Cervantes is another that seemed daunting but I loved so much I will make myself read it again one day.

Despite having a degree in French Language and Literature, I always hated writing and avoided university courses that had an essay component as much as possible. Give me a factual test any day, don’t ask me to articulate my thoughts in writing. I was wracked with paralyzing self-doubt that I could ever adequately express the thoughts bouncing around my skull. Or that the thoughts were even worth expressing.

When I was on maternity leave with our third child in 2010, I started my Masters and one of the first courses was statistics. I hear the collective groan, but I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Writing the initial essay was the first time my thoughts stopped bouncing and ordered themselves into words, then paragraphs, then into the very first A+ in my life. More importantly, the professor complimented me on how clearly and succinctly I had reasoned my arguments. Amazing what a difference a few words, and twenty years of experience, can make in a person’s self-perception.

Fast-forward to 2015. I hadn’t yet met Ralph, but I had been relapsing every six months consistently for five years, luckily always bouncing back completely. One of my favourite memories of my career is lunchtime in the staff room with certain colleagues. You know, the ones who speak their minds and the subject matter sometimes gets a bit bawdy but is always hilarious? Many lunch hours sharing stories and loud laughter with people I still consider dear friends, even if we hardly see each other.

Anyway, I shared some (not all, I was a grade one teacher, for Pete’s sake) of the more adventurous, sordid tales of my adolescence in the 80s, as well as the story of how I met my husband, which was also in the 80s as it happens. I had several people tell me, sometimes after staring at me wondering how I’m still alive, or with hearts in their eyes as I recounted my personal love story, that it sounded like a movie or I should write a book. I thought little of it, until that summer when… wait for it… I had a dream.

https://youtu.be/yM4e8GUP0Cs

Sounds stupid, I know. The first time I dreamed the title and the first line, I woke up and thought, weird, and moved on. Then I had the exact same dream the very next night. Always a believer in signs, I opened up a blank document and typed that first line. For the next six weeks, the story wrote itself, around 80,00 words, my imagination filling in the many places my memory couldn’t locate. It was an unreal, life-changing experience.

That project sat on my iPad until the following September, when the residual effects of Ralph’s visit forced me to face the fact that I could no longer teach. Reading has always been a loyal companion but I found that not only did the cog fog make reading really difficult, even holding a physical book took too much energy. Thank goodness for digital books and Bookbub!

All my brain could handle at that point were romance novels, and I had to face my own snobbery to the whole genre that had me, with the exception of a brief Danielle Steel phase when I was 18, too embarrassed to even go to that section in the library. There is a reason that romance represents such a large proportion of all books sold. People, okay mostly women, love a love story. For obvious reasons.

Spending so much time reading, I started noticing the formulaic nature of a lot of the books, not to mention some atrocious quality issues and that lead me to beta reading. I joined some groups on FB, read some interesting manuscripts, and finally felt brave enough to share parts of my manuscript with a few people, including one full exchange. I valued the feedback and wrote several more drafts but I really suck at rewriting. “Killing my darlings”? Yeah, I suck.

What sucked even more, was that even though I was proud of having written it, when I asked myself “What is this book actually about?” You know, that rather important question you should ask yourself BEFORE you write 80,000 words? I had no idea, really, and ‘it’s the story of how I met my husband’ is just, well, blah. While I will always love reading that story, and maybe someday I will rework it so it actually follows proper novel structure, for now it hibernates.

I’ve started a few other projects since then, but I usually get to chapter 7 or 8 and it fizzles out, or my brain decides to start a different story. My latest project has made it to chapter 11 because I finally decided to try outlining, and found some awesome books and resources from C.S. Lakin at Live, Write, Thrive. Thanks, Suzanne!

The other tip I have been making myself stick to is to Just. Keep. Writing. I’m a terrible perfectionist and will reread the same chapter 16 times, trying to fix it but unsure how. So, I’m not letting myself look back more than a few paragraphs each day until I finish the first draft.

To keep up the forward momentum I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time starting July 1st, with a word goal of 30,000. It is really helpful to have a virtual writing group that is all working towards a similar goal. So far, I have written over 9,300 words and am enjoying getting into a more regular writing routine.

Launching this blog last month was a huge step in getting over the phobia of sharing my writing. I started this way back in November 2016, but didn’t have the nerve to actually share it until June 2018. Imagine my surprise when I finally launched and the Bad Writing Police didn’t show up at my door to confiscate my iPad. People were more supportive and encouraging than I could have imagined. Not to mention that I picked up almost 100 followers from that first post! Mind. Blown.

I thought I would be tapping away and sharing in solitude, happy if even one person from my personal life bothered to read my ramblings. And frankly, even if nobody followed I would keep going. That’s a lie. Knowing my words might have meaning to even just one other person is huge.

In light of my commitment to myself to #facethefear, in September I’m going to a writing retreat. I am equal parts excited and terrified. Sharing my writing with people face to face? Ack! I’ll let you know how that goes, it should be a great adventure.

Any other writers out there? I’d love to hear your stories. If you have a phobia about writing, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Whether you choose to make up stories or write down some of your own, there is something magical that happens when you silence that inner critic and let your words flow; it allows you access to a part of yourself that perhaps has been hiding for too long. You don’t have to share it, just write it. You may surprise yourself.

Wow, this was a long post. Thanks so much if you stuck with me to the end!

Have a great week everyone!

❤️ Amanda


** A book series I recommend for romance, vicarious travelling and delicious food descriptions, is Laura Bradbury‘s ‘Grape’ series. Laura understands the Spoonie life better than anybody. She had a liver transplant last year for a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease, and is making the most of her new lease on life. She recently released My Grape Paris which brought me right back to the six months I lived in Paris around the same time. They have villas to rent in France, too!