out of the darkness walk: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Suicide has touched me and those I love. On September 26 I will be participating in the Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

If you feel you would like to or would be able to donate to the cause, here’s the link for my own personal fundraising page.

I don’t get the money but I do get a cool t-shirt if I hit $ 150. 🙂

Thanks for your support.



Writer/Cartoonist Allie Brosh

Writer/Cartoonist Allie Brosh

Baileys Prize longlist read: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey


  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (June 10, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062309668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062309662
  • $ 25.99

I cannot imagine wanting to go on living should I one day be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Some may spout off about the “sanctity of life” but I see no sanctity in becoming a living shell, operating without the essence of what makes me who I am: without the vast culmination of the memories I’ve both earned and had thrust upon me, and the lucidity to carry out the functions of daily life. Worse, forgetting who my loved ones are and losing all the memories I’ve had with them. Most crushing of all, becoming a tremendous burden to my family and, occasionally, a joke for the antics I’d be unable to control. I’d far rather be euthanized.

The topics raised in Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing are all the more timely after the recent passing of fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, who suffered the ravages of the disease for some six or seven years before succumbing earlier this week. However I believe I would react, Pratchett went at it fiercely, fighting back and going public, letting the world know he wasn’t dead yet and, indeed, intended to stave off the inevitable as long as it was in his power to do so.

He allowed himself to be filmed for the first year after his diagnosis, very candidly showing the world how the path of his particular experiences of the disease progressed. If you have a chance, I recommended watching it. That, and any other material he produced while in the throes of Alzheimer’s. Reading about it theoretically is one thing, watching it unfold in real time quite another. It will add another dimension to understanding how horrific this damned disease actually is, worse than anything I’d realized and I’m a glass half-empty sort of person. I probably didn’t need to add that last statement; I expect you’ll find it more than a little redundant.

Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is the story of an elderly woman named Maud who, in moments of lucidity realizing she hasn’t seen her best friend Elizabeth in quite some time, begins to suspect something awful has happened to her. Maud is quite far gone but cognizant enough to realize if she writes things down on slips of paper, carrying them with her, she can sometimes make sense of big, important things. And finding her friend Elizabeth is at the top of that list, though the repetition of it drives all around her stark, raving mad. Still, no matter how far gone her dementia, her love of her friend keeps poking through the mist. She has something to keep her going, a quest she feels she must fulfill, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Her determination is one of the last things she has left of the woman she once was.

Maud visits Elizabeth’s house, noting her son has been emptying it. When she calls to ask what’s going on he swears at her, telling her no concrete details save Elizabeth is fine and to stop bothering him. In bits and pieces, the reader later learns Maud had called him at 3 a.m. Hardly the time to expect a rational, or apparently kind, answer.

Needless to say, our narrator is far from reliable and untangling the real from the imagined is part of the fascination I, personally, felt for the story. How events seemed to Maud could be awfully convincing. You want to believe her, because she’s so determined and deserves to have things put right. Then, life has a tendency to veer off course, even without a brain-degenerating disease thrown into the mix. Is she being protected from a terrible truth, has something nefarious happened she alone is capable of unearthing or is she simply an elderly woman caught in her life’s final spiral, confused and entirely off track?

Healey tells the story both via Maud’s thoughts and memories, rational and not, and through the words and actions of those around her, mostly her daughter, Helen. Not being an expert on Alzheimer’s by any means, I believe it’s beautifully done. Writing coherently in the voice of a woman who’s fading away rapidly takes a great deal of skill. Keeping the reader flipping pages madly, not once distracted by a false note on the writer’s part, takes even more.

As if this weren’t enough of a challenge, there’s a parallel, flashback plot line as well. When she was an adolescent, Maud’s older sister Susan (Sukey) disappeared, under mysterious circumstances, as a young wife married to a man who ran a black market enterprise during WW II – a man known for getting drunk and rowdy, as well. Maud made herself sick obsessing over the case. Finding nothing after all her ceaseless searching, after the police detectives had thrown up their hands, she wound up so ill she was restricted to bed for weeks, to gain back her strength.

So there’s not just the Elizabeth mystery going on but the re-living of the past and Maud’s sister’s loss. The previous loss explains why Maud cannot let Elizabeth go. She may have failed Susan but she’s determined not to fail Elizabeth.

I expect this is the reason Elizabeth is Missing was nominated for the Baileys Award for Women’s Fiction, the complexity of running two similar stories, some 70 years apart, so seamlessly, while carrying the weight of an elderly woman with dementia. And though it’s heartbreaking reading, it’s not without its moments of dark humor. Another great skill, knowing where to insert these little bits, so the reader has a small break from the tension of reading such a dark novel.

Keep an eye on Emma Healey. The Baileys judges handpicked her to stand in as one of the more remarkable young writers writing today. There’s always at least one writer with Healey’s promise on the Longlist and, though I don’t expect her to make it through to the Shortlist, I highly recommend this as a fine novel and Emma Healey as a writer with much potential.

She pulled off a lot in her first novel. If she can take her next book in a different direction, while keeping her skill set, she may just wind up back on this list again one day. Quite a bit of pressure on her for her sophomore effort – the downside of being Longlisted – but hopefully she won’t make us wait too long for it. If I could recommend one thing to her, it would be get right back in there. Close your ears and mind to the Baileys, and produce the draft of your next novel. No small feat but you’ve come this far.

Wow us again, Emma. You can do this.

Richard Flanagan wins Man Booker; Lisa neither surprised nor unsurprised

Never in recent memory have I had less interest in the Man Booker Prize contenders. In years past I’ve knocked myself out trying to read all the short-list titles, not letting the fact I never managed to read them all stop me from forming an opinion as to who should win this coveted award. (At this point I generally crow about my accuracy rate. I’ll spare you that, and you are welcome.) But this year? I could not have cared less. I bow my head in shame.

I still respect the award and will surely find the strength to care again next time around, but life chose to bestow a highly emotional experience on me which kept me from reading anything –  until recently – much less the Booker contenders. Now that life’s settled a bit, knock on wood, my reading has resumed apace and I can have a look at Richard Flanagan’s work.

If there’s one thing I hate it’s being out of the literary loop. Backtracking to read anything he’s written will be better than reading nothing at all. Until a couple of months ago, I owned a signed 1st edition copy of Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish. Unfortunately, I sold it, along with a few hundred other titles, in the midst of the aforesaid upheaval in my life. I’ll try to buy it back, now that the man’s gone and won an award. Literature doesn’t have much of a following where I live, in the far NW Chicago suburbs, so my chances of recovering it are pretty good. In fact, great. His stock price has now risen; despite having to pay a bit more for the book I’ve previously purchased, my return on investment may still be worthwhile. At the least, I’ll know he’s safely nestled back on my shelves. I’ll feel better, and he’ll be back where he was, gathering dust on one of my dozen or so bookcases.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the book for which he won the award, is owned by a few libraries in our system, but not mine. Because it is so new, I can’t put it on hold, so can’t even request it until it’s seasoned a bit. As I’m determined not to purchase it, because I’ve restricted myself from buying so many books (I know…), I’ll content myself with the book we do have on shelf here at my library: Wanting.



Internationally acclaimed and profoundly moving, Richard Flanagan’s Wanting is a stunning tale of colonialism, ambition, and the lusts and longings that make us human. Now in paperback, it links two icons of Western civilization through a legendarily disastrous arctic exploration, and one of the most infamous episodes in human history: the colonization of Tasmania.
In 1841, Sir John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane, move to the remote penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. There Lady Jane falls in love with a lively aboriginal girl, Mathinna, whom she adopts and makes the subject of a grand experiment in civilization—one that will determine whether science, Christianity, and reason can be imposed in the place of savagery, impulse, and desire.
A quarter of a century passes. Sir John Franklin disappears in the Arctic with his crew and two ships on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. England is horrified by reports of cannibalism filtering back from search parties, no one more so than the most celebrated novelist of the day, Charles Dickens. As Franklin’s story becomes a means to plumb the frozen depths of his own life, Dickens finds a young actress thawing his heart.

When his Man Booker winner becomes available I’ll try to make time to get to it. In lieu of that, this should give me a good taste of his work. If he proves especially worthwhile there are many other Flanagan titles available via interlibrary loan, which is good luck for my credit card, though not so encouraging for Amazon.

In any case, good for him on his win.  Huzzah!, and all that.

mood music: name by the goo goo dolls

I love this song, both for the lovely acoustic guitar, sweet vocals and the lyrics, which I find very personally affecting. So much of what this song says reflects my life now, as well as my past:
And even though the moment passed me by
I still can’t turn away
Cuz all the dreams you never thought you’d lose
Got tossed along the way
And letters that you never meant to send
Got lost or thrown away

And scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far


Bad grammar aside, it’s a beautiful song. Don’t we all have scars as souvenirs? A past that haunts?

And haven’t we all felt lonely, hurting and being hurt, regretful of all our wrong choices.

Writers: On realizing their calling

A Short Compilation on Writers and Their Beginnings

Jeffrey Eugenides

I decided very early—my junior year of high school. We read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that year, and it had a big effect on me, for reasons that seem quite amusing to me now. I’m half Irish and half Greek—my mother’s family were Kentuckians, Southern hillbillies, and my paternal grandparents immigrants from Asia Minor—and, for that reason, I identified with Stephen Dedalus. Like me, he was bookish, good at academics, and possessed an “absurd name, an ancient Greek.” Joyce writes somewhere that Dedalus sees his name as an omen of his destiny, and I, at the dreamy age of sixteen, did as well. Eugenides was in The Waste Land. My Latin teacher pointed that out to me. The only reason I was given to these fantasies in the first place, of course, was that the power of Joyce’s language and the story of Stephen Dedalus refusing to become a priest in order to take up the mantle of art were so compelling to me. Dedalus wants to form the “uncreated conscience of his race.” That’s what I wanted to do, even though I didn’t really know what it meant. I do remember thinking, however, that to be a writer was the best thing a person could be. It seemed to promise maximum alertness to life. It seemed holy to me, and almost religious.

I went about it very methodically. I chose Brown largely in order to study with John Hawkes, whose work I admired. I entered the honors program in English, which forced me to study the entire English tradition, beginning with Beowulf. I felt that since I was going to try to add to the tradition, I had better know something about it.

U.S. Poet Laureate: Charles Wright

Well, an inability to do anything else, among other things. I first started reading it seriously when I was in the Army, in Verona, Italy, and I was 23 years old, which is very late for a poet — most poets start about the age of 3, I’ve come to find out. And they have a whole stack of poems that they wrote before kindergarten. But that was not my case.

I did try to write stories in college, because I was interested in writing, and I was interested in the sound of language, but I was just no good at narrative and at fiction. When I discovered the lyric poem, that advanced not by narrative steps but by blocks and layers of imagery, I said, “Gee, I probably could do that. So let me try that.”

And that’s sort of what I’ve been doing, oh, for the last 50 years or so. And I feel very happy to have found it, because it’s obviously changed my life — and gave me something to do.

David Mitchell

There was no single epiphany, but I recall a few early flashes. When I was ten I would be transported by certain books—Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, Susan Cooper’s fantasy novels, Isaac Asimov—and burn to do to readers what had just been done to me. Sometimes that burning prompted me to start writing, though I never got more than a few pages down. A few years later I would indulge in a visual fantasy that involved imagining my name on the jacket of a book—usually Faber and Faber—and I’d feel a whoosh inside my rib cage.

Miriam Toews

I was working on a radio documentary about welfare in Manitoba, specifically social assistance for single mothers, and I decided that the story I was telling would be better, truer, as a novel. I was always interested in literature, but not necessarily writing it. That came a little later.


After I saw the film [The Wizard of Oz], I went home and wrote a short story called “Over the Rainbow.” I was probably nine or ten. The story was about a boy walking down a sidewalk in Bombay and seeing the beginning of the rainbow, instead of the end—this shimmering thing arcing away from him. It had steps cut in it—usefully—rainbow-colored steps all the way up. He goes up over the rainbow and has fairy-tale adventures. He meets a talking Pianola at one point. The story has not survived. Probably just as well.




Émile François Zola, Self-portrait, 1902