How to be unforgettable

How did Toni Morrison influence your life?

At this time in my life as I’ve allowed myself to fall in love againI would say her words on love touch my soul in profound ways.

Every great author and some who never achieve world-wide acclaim has affected our lives in a multitude of ways. Toni Morrison’s work is in a class by itself. Maybe right up there with Maya Angelou.

I will let her words speak to you in honor of her memory.

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

“Something that is loved is never lost.”

“To get to a place where you could love anything you chose, not to need permission for desire, well now that was freedom.”

“Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind.”

It is the courage of authors like Toni that have opened their hearts and bared their souls, that gave me the guts to write the stories that I write. My memoir LOVE The Beat Goes On is so personal and revealing it took me years before I would publish it.

“Make up a story. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” Toni Morrison

So I went on and wrote about a 50 year-old-woman and her 20-year-old lover in Target in the Sun. And then I exposed the lives of several male prostitutes in Mexico writing in the first person as Layla, in Lie To Me, again opening myself to major criticism, but also an award for Contemporary Fiction Social Issues.

It’s not easy to reveal yourself because that’s what I do when I write. Yes, my books are “fiction” but as in the current Daniel Silva book The New Girl, our stories are often based on fact. Some hide it better than others.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  Toni Morrison

This sums it up for me:

Lynda Filler photographer

Answered on Quora

I’m Alive!

 

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It’s that time of year, again! Happy Mother’s Day! I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy in early 2008! After many months at 28% EF, there was no improvement although the shortness of breath and what felt like heart attack seemed under control with meds.

The doctors told me at best I’d need a transplant but basically the last words were “get your affairs in order.” This photo was taken a few days ago in Istanbul Turkey. This year I sold everything and decided to travel and visit all the places I write about in my books! I’m now in my fourth month!! I’ve written my personal story it’s available on Amazon LOVE the Beat Goes On, and has inspired many! But I’m writing this to let you know not to give up hope!!!

I went to work with a shaman in Arizona in 2008. I never had a transplant nor any operations. The last thing I did before I started this trip was to visit my cardiologist in Puerto Vallarta where I lived. He said “you will always have some left bundle blockage but your heart is functioning at 86% normal! And it’s been that way for several years! Live and enjoy your life!”

This is what I wish for all of you!

 

29 Life-Changing Lessons That Will Make You Successful And More Strategic

There is this myth that mentors are people you have to know and see.

That it is some official designation to seek out. I’ve never met Tyler Cowen, the bestselling author, economist, and thinker. We’ve never spoken on the phone. Our longest email conversation might have been three sentences. Yet he has been one of the most significant influences in the education and evolution of my life. By every definition, he’s been what you would call a mentor.

Lately, I’ve been trying to write about all the ways people have helped me. It’s been an exercise in gratitude but also articulation — in writing it down, I am remembering it and codifying it so I never forget the lessons. Below are just some of the things I’ve learned from this polymathic professor of economics, voracious reader and contrarian philosopher. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to meet him one day (I hope I am) but even if you don’t, he can still be your mentor.

Below are 29 lessons I learned from Tyler over the last 10 years. Hope you gain from them as much as I have.


1. See Yourself Afresh — This is one of my favorite quotes from Tyler: “Treat yourself like a piece of your writing which you set aside for a week so you could look at it fresh.”

2. Being Curious Is a Career — It was crazy to me at first that Tyler got to do what he did for a living: write blog posts, read books, have ideas. That’s what I wanted to do. I think the way you get paid to do that is by making that curiosity valuable to other people: Tyler blogs every day and his links and questions help people do their jobs, his books propose provocative big ideas, his podcast is entertaining and important. You can’t just nerd out — there has to be value creation

3. Complacency Is the Enemy — Tyler’s newest book (which is awesome) is about all the ways that society has become complacent. We accept the status quo, we don’t want to disrupt it. People move less, change careers less, change their minds less, live in less diverse places, riot less than they used to. I’ve done most of those things in my life (except the last one), it’s how you keep things interesting and find opportunities. Point being: Don’t worry as much about disruption and chaos — it might simply mean interesting things are happening — fear stability and complacency because it means decay.

4. Seek Out Quake Books — When I was 19 or 20, Tyler talked to me about the concept of “quake books” — books that shake you to your core. As he wrote in his 2007 email to me: “I would more likely intensively engage with some important book totally full of new ideas. Hayek. Parfit. Plato. And so on. There just aren’t books like that left for me anymore. So I read many more, to learn bits, but haven’t in years experienced a ‘view quake.’ That is sad, to me at least, but I don’t know how to avoid how that has turned out. So enjoy your best reading years while you can!”

5. What’s the Cost of This Fight? — There is a line in one of Tyler’s books where he talks about fighting with a spouse over a couch (or something like that). He says that maybe you like your idea 20% more than her/his idea, so you fight and win. Now you’re a little bit happier. But what did that victory cost you in terms of an unhappy spouse? Is it worth more or less than how much you value your opinion over the couch? I never would have thought about it that way — I can’t tell you how many arguments this has saved me. (The answer is ‘not enough.’)

6. Expectations Are the Enemy in (Long Distance) Relationships — I was in a long distance relationship in 2006 when I read Tyler’s post on them. It was another brilliant perspective that helped me relax and made things better. I ended up marrying that girl a decade later. Thanks, Tyler!

7. Know What is Scarce — “In today’s global economy here is what is scarce: 1. Quality land and natural resources 2. Intellectual property, or good ideas about what should be produced. 3. Quality labor with unique skills.” I framed the longer passage this line is from and I have it above my desk as a daily reminder. It comes from Average is Over — another absolutely amazing book.

8. To Speed Read, Read A Lot — How do you become a better and more prolific reader? I’ll let Tyler tell you: “The best way to read quickly is to read lots. And lots. And to have started a long time ago. Then maybe you know what is coming in the current book. Reading quickly is often, in a margin-relevant way, close to not reading much at all.”

9. Knowledge Compounds — I think what he’s also saying there is that the value of reading compounds over time. Reading more makes you a better and faster reader, learning about stuff makes it easier and faster for you to learn more.

10. Your Life Is Not a Story — Tyler has observed that most people describe their lives as stories and journeys. But giving in to this temptation can be dangerous. Narratives often lead to an overly simplistic understanding of events, causes, and effects — and, often, to arrogance.

11. Move to Texas — In 2013, Tyler wrote a Time cover story about why everyone was moving to Texas. That’s not quite why I moved to Austin but it didn’t hurt.

12. When Traveling, Pretend You’re A Thief — I like his trick when visiting museums: Pretend you’re a thief who is casing the joint. It changes how you perceive and remember the art. Try it.

13. Just Go — Another travel tip from Tyler: “My main tip is simply: “Go, go go!” Go. People have a status quo bias when they make decisions and they don’t take enough chances.”

14. Read However You Want — People are amazed at how much Tyler reads (it’s a lot) but they miss that he has his own set of rules for doing it. He skips around. He quits books he doesn’t like. He might read a novel from only the perspective of one of the characters. He’ll ruin the ending. He just does whatever — and so you should you. This isn’t for a test. It’s for your own enjoyment (he does the same with movies apparently).

15. Be a Good (But Quiet) Family Man — Even though Tyler talks about all sorts of parenting stuff in his books, it really never occurred to me that he had kids until I heard him mention something about it on his podcast. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about his wife. I have a lot of respect for people who have families…but don’t parade them around like some trophy. He has a family, it’s important to him, but that’s his business. It’s how I try to live my life too.

16. Really Understand Other People’s Work — What you’ll hear when you listen to Tyler’s podcast is just how deeply he has set out to understand the work of the person he’s talking to. I think in some ways he understands the arc of the person’s career better than they do. This is a special skill. It requires getting out of your own head and actually thinking about someone else (that’s not something podcasts are known for…).

17. Read Eclectically — Another reading rule: Check out a couple of these most recent “What I’m Reading” posts from Tyler. Look at how diverse the subject matter is. Books about far-right politics in Europe, the diary of a Stalin ambassador, histories of the Irish border, a book on the quartet of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay, and James Madison, one right after another.

18. Money Can Sap Motivation — In Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler writes about how he tried to incentivize his step-daughter to do the dishes so he resorted to paying her, which got her to wash them — but it worked only for a week. “I knew this could happen. I understood that there is such a thing as intrinsic motivation and that if you pay people, you might weaken that. What I didn’t really get was the control issue. That when you start paying people to do a thing, they often see it as control.” (The story has a happy ending: She started washing the dishes for free after reading the book.)

19. Order Weird Stuff on the Menu — If the weird thing wasn’t good, goes his logic, the chef probably wouldn’t have been allowed to put it on there. Sure — I’ll buy it.

20. Don’t Be Afraid to Have a Partner — Tyler’s site, Marginal Revolution, has a co-writer named Alex Tabarrok. He’s the unsung hero of that site and many of his articles are longtime favorites of mine. You don’t have to do everything yourself. In fact, you should have intellectual and creative partners. It’s powerful.

21. Write The Opposing View — It’s not just enough to think about how other people might think. One of his more recent opinion pieces shows how far Tyler is willing to go when it comes to empathy: He suggests actually writing — as if it’s you — an article with someone else’s opinion. See if you can explain why Trump is doing this or that, or why your parents believe this or that. Feel those words coming through your fingers — do you understand them better? Are things less contentious? I love this idea.

22. How to Thoughtfully Disagree — I’ve read a lot of Tyler Cowen writing over the years. Tyler is smart, opinionated and contrarian. It occurs to me there is one thing I’ve never seen from Tyler: contemptuous dismissal of anyone else. That’s something I know I need to work on. I take things too seriously, I condescend, I speak with undeserved certainty. Meanwhile, Tyler entertains basically everything. He’s friendly even when he disagrees. He’s open-minded. It’s a great model for any aspiring thinker.

23. Think Rationally, Not Emotionally — Two interesting posts from Tyler stand out to me, both about Peter Thiel. One was after the Gawker lawsuit, where Tyler stripped the emotion out of the debate and just looked at how third-party funding works and how common it is. Two, after Peter’s controversial comments in the New York Times about whether there is “too little” or “too much” corruption, Tyler actually tried to figure out what the guy was talking about (it’s actually kind of interesting). Point being: Don’t get caught up in outrage or emotions, earnestly try to figure stuff out.

24. Cultivate Young Smart People — Like I said, I don’t know Tyler, but he’s nice enough to occasionally answer my emails. I know he answers emails from people like Ben Casnocha and Cal Newport and I’m sure there are hundreds — if not thousands — of young people he’s helped over the years (students or otherwise). He doesn’t need to do this but he does. It’s paying it forward.

25. Watch One TV Show at a Time — Tyler has a great rule about not watching more than one big TV series at a time.

26. Don’t Offer to Work for Free — From Average is Over: “It doesn’t matter how flexible the wage is in the more complex, less brute force jobs. A manual worker who just shows up at your door is probably not someone you want to hire unless it is already part of a preexisting business plan with broad buy-in from your enterprise and your creditors. The worker might say, “I’ll lower my wage demands by thirty percent!” or, “I’ll work for nothing!” It usually won’t matter. The sad reality is that many of these workers you don’t want at all, even if the business plan involves additional labor. Some workers simply aren’t worth the trouble unless the demand for extra labor is truly pressing.”

27. Command Your Audience — I’ve become addicted to Tyler’s podcast. Aside from the conversations, a secondary pleasure is his command over the audience (‘I will cut you off.’ ‘We will be out of this room by 5pm.’) and his very specific questions. His confidence and directness was not something I expected to hear, but it’s impressive. I can’t tell you how many conferences I’ve been to where I wished for someone like that.

28. For Good Food, Go to The Suburbs — As Tyler writes in his rules for dining out, “I love exploring the suburbs for first-rate ethnic food. Many people consider suburbs a cultural wasteland, but I am very happy searching for food in Orange County, California; the area near San Jose; Northern Virginia, near D.C.; Somerville, Massachusetts; and so on. I don’t always pre-Google to find the best place, and I don’t keep tapping on my iPhone. I drive around and keep my eyes open for dining establishments likely to follow the economic rules for good, innovative, and affordable food.”

29. Ask: Do Your Actions Match Your Beliefs? — The Tyler post that has me thinking the most lately is something he said after the election of Donald Trump. A good portion of the country thought Trump was dangerously unfit for office and would enact terrible, destructive policies…yet the markets have steadily gone up. Why don’t we see more people acting on these beliefs? Why aren’t there more short sellers in the market? More doomsday preparations? His point: People love to talk but rarely match their actions with their beliefs. This is both a contradiction or a potential market opportunity. It’s made me re-examine my actions in regards to both.

I could keep going but it might start to seem weird. Besides, the other thing I’ve learned from Tyler is this: keep it short. Almost all his blog posts are pithy — sometimes just a few sentences long. Even his opinion pieces are tight and to the point. So I’ll end it here. If you want to learn from Tyler, go read his stuff. He’s the best.

Like to Read?

I’ve created a list of 15 books you’ve never heard of that will alter your worldview and help you excel at your career.

 


Read a lot? Or you want to expand your horizons?
Lynda Filler’s new Action/Adventure series on AMAZON:
5
xposed

I miss you…

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March is a month of nostalgia for me.

It’s the birth month of my Mom. She said when her birthday came around she was foreshadowed by mine, two weeks earlier. Don’t you think it’s strange the things we remember?

I recently applied to Ontario, Canada for an original birth certificate. I never had one. I couldn’t remember the exact date of birth of neither of my parents. Weird, right? But I remembered the year and the story I’d told over the years of my ancestry on my mother’s side.

Four Curtin brothers came across from Ireland on a ship and married four Callaghan sisters! Two settled in Western Canada and two in the East–Ontario. What are the chances of that? It’s not a story you’d easily forget.

My mother was a beautiful woman who lived in a time when women stayed home and men went to war. And when some of the men came back, they brought the war zone with them. Unfortunately, I remember too much of that.

She was the one I counted on. She would listen to me and always told me I could do and be anything I wanted in life. She died in 2005. I’ve never returned to the town of my birth in Ontario since then.

I hope she’d be proud of the choices I’ve made. I know she understood when I took my heart from the frozen snow in Canada to the sun-filled days of Puerto Vallarta Mexico.

And I was blessed to feel her leaning over my shoulder as I wrote my memoir LOVE The Beat Goes On, she held my hand, every step of the way.

So today I honor her memory and share it with you.

I never told you enough how much I loved you. I miss you, Mom.

 

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Cold

Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to the talented author Victoria Dougherty. The following is a piece written by Victoria called Herein Lies the Truth.  You can find more stories in her book linked at the bottom of this blog called  COLD, Essays on Love, Faith, Family and Other Dangerous Pursuits

 

Herein Lies the Truth

By Victoria Dougherty

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I have a close family member who tells a lot of big, whopping lies. Lies about the past, about emotions and their impact on her and others, lies about what she had for breakfast, for heaven’s sake.

When I was a kid, this family member – let’s just call her Marta – told me a heartbreaking story about her very painful, difficult childhood.

She had been abandoned by her family, you see. Then tossed out of her grandmother’s house because the woman simply didn’t want another mouth to feed. Somehow, Marta had found her way to a convent and was raised by a group of wonderful nuns. They adored Marta, teaching her the ways of prayer and selflessness. Marta almost became a nun herself – she’d wanted to very much – but her grandmother reappeared in her life and forced her to marry a man she wanted nothing to do with. A man her grandmother thought would position their family for future prosperity.

But a portrait of Marta remains at the convent where she spent so many happy years. An artist who did occasional work for the church had been struck by Marta’s beauty and used her face as the inspiration for his painting of Mary, the Virgin Mother. Marta promised to take me to that convent one day and show me that portrait.

And I believed her.

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(c) Hackney Museum, Chalmers Bequest; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It wasn’t until my teens that I discovered through various sources that almost everything Marta had told me was either twisted or completely fabricated. There was no convent and no artist. Her grandmother had never tossed her out on her ear.

At first, I was shocked and devastated. I couldn’t believe that Marta – who I loved and trusted and who was so good to me – was just a big, fat liar. I went back through everything she’d ever told me about herself, about others, and pondered the little inconsistencies in her accounts of things as simple as an exchange with a store clerk. In the end, I concluded that there was not a single thing that Marta had ever said that could actually be trusted.

I wandered around in a daze after this revelation. My whole world had been turned upside down, and I was really angry about it, wanting nothing more to do with Marta and her perverted versions of events. I even told her so.

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“Don’t be so hard on Marta,” my aunt told me. “She loves you and that is the truth.”

My aunt also went on to tell me the real story of Marta’s life, one that has since been corroborated by other family members. It’s a story of devastating loss, betrayal, of rape by an uncle and a prison guard, of an abusive marriage. By any standard, it is a far more heart-wrenching tale than the one Marta put forth to me.

Slowly, I began to realize that the true story was one Marta simply couldn’t bear to tell.

“But why did she have to lie?” I asked my aunt. “Couldn’t she have just said nothing?”

Truth is, I knew the answer to that question. Marta needed to tell me something. She needed my sympathy and needed me to understand why she was the way she was. Every lie she told – from how much a bag of apples had cost her at the grocery store to the year she was born – was a deflection, a protective measure meant to soothe the pain from the unmentionable. With her lies, she was able to create a mosaic that showed truth from a distance and enabled her in some way to right the wrongs that had been visited upon her.

The unlovable was taken in and loved.
The rape victim was to become a nun.
The ugliness Marta felt inside was transformed by an artist’s portrait.
And in the end, Marta became the Virgin Mary.

That was the truth Marta needed to tell and she was sticking to it. I imagine she felt she had to because to contemplate the facts was too much for her.

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Marta’s distorted worldview and the havoc the eventual exposure of her lies wreaked upon our family was my first experience with having to learn to love someone who was tragically flawed. With having to forgive so many things which – at least on paper – appeared unforgivable.

It was also my first experience in discovering the true power of fiction. How a story can tell a greater truth, even when it warps and obliterates fact.

It’s why when I started writing memoir COLD: Essay on Love, Faith, Family and Other Dangerous Pursuits, I did it with the aim of chronicling some of my family stories. And I did it with the full intention of leaving the stories just as they were – told sometimes from multiple viewpoints. Letting the inaccuracies bubble up all on their own and the more significant truths prevail. These are the unfiltered and sometimes unverified tales that make up family lore.

And they are powerful.

The truth of the matter is that sooner or later, the truth does tend to come out and that organic process of verity, as opposed to truth, is far more beautiful and frightening and enduring than the products of mere research. A fact is just a fact, after all. It comes and goes as new facts are unearthed. But verity is bigger than that. It is, as defined, a true principle or belief of fundamental importance. Verity is what myths are based on, and myths, while often fantastically unreliable – even downright ridiculous, are much mightier than a mere account.

It’s how a monster like the Minotaur – half bull, half human – illuminates us about courage and cleverness in a way that still resonates thousands of years later. Even if the story is just a load of bull.

And it’s why as we sit down at the dinner table during the coming Holidays, as Cousin Betsy waxes nostalgic about her dear, late husband, who she couldn’t stand the sight of while he lived; as dad goes on one of his crazy-assed political diatribes – pissed off about immigration, although he’s an immigrant himself; while your sister-in-law recounts her Facebooky life – sounding off in nauseating detail about her selfless acts, fabulous vacations and twenty-year honeymoon with a man who makes loves to her five times a day without the aid of pharmaceuticals, we might want to try not chewing our sweet potato casserole with quite so much contempt. Like Marta’s, these stories are often brimming with hidden meanings. Ones of longing, shame, hope, desperation, love lost and found.

If we’re going to be honest about it, that’s all that really matters.

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About the Author:

Biography

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Victoria Dougherty is the author of The Bone Church, Welcome to the Hotel Yalta and Cold. She writes fiction, drama, and essays that revolve around lovers, killers, curses, and destinies.
Her work has been published or profiled in the New York Times, USA Today, The International Herald Tribune, and elsewhere.

Earlier in her career, while living in Prague, she co-founded Black Box Theater, translating, producing, and acting in several Czech plays.

Her blog – COLD – features her short essays on faith, family, love, and writing.
WordPress, the blogging platform that hosts some 70 million blogs worldwide, has singled out COLD as one of the Top 50 Recommended Blogs by writers or about writing.

Twitter: @vicdougherty
Instagram: victoria_dougherty

Someone Stole

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Someone Stole

 

I try to remember

yes,

I go back

but there are years, blank years

why is that?

 

I have a few photos

they don’t speak to me

(maybe I’m a Russian sleeper)

who are these people?

the little girl with blond curls,

           the rag dolly she carries by one leg

           a defiant expression on her two year old face

           a mother, watching, never touching

 

I should feel something, shouldn’t I?

 

“Memories, may be beautiful and yet

What’s too painful to remember

We simply choose to forget”

is it really the Way We Were?

 

tradition amnesia

shallow roots

hollow words,

echoes of a life

i n c o m p l e t e

 

I surrender to those dark years

I need to know

 

In knowing what has been denied

will I find peace?

 

someone stole my memories

you can keep all the bad stuff

but I want my love memories back

 

 

 

 

Memoir: Put a knife in your heart and just bleed.

Memoirs are easy. You sit in front of your computer for what might be years, put a knife in your heart, and bleed.

This week I received two editorial 5 Star reviews and four 4 Stars. Reviews are important, yet not really in the grand scheme of life. Would I stop writing if a review was bad? Would I put away my current WIP Sex For Money, and never pick it up again if someone said my work was not worth reading?

No. I would keep on writing because a writer writes.

On the other hand, what do you do when your family is upset with what you’ve written?

It’s easy to hide behind your characters in fiction but memoir is like going to confession with the doors to the confessional wide open and a microphone blasting your words to the entire congregation.

Yes, you will have family members angry with you for saying things they feel are private. But you can’t tell the story of your life while your family and/or ex-husbands are reading over your shoulder expecting to be allowed to give their stamp of approval on every sentence.

So as a writer I wait for the reviewers and my readers, who, for the most part, are voyeurs and as such, I can expect a less emotional, more impartial opinion of the words that make up my life.

And this is some of what they’ve shared with me this week.

“Powerful and unforgettable”
“Invaluable for anyone confronted by physical conditions or illness … her story is truly inspirational, LOVE The Beat Goes On is most highly recommended.”  
Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite 5 STARS

An introspective read” “Quick, relatable…giving us a glimpse into the journey of a remarkable woman.”  
Reviewed by Kayti Nika Raet for Readers’ Favorite  5 STARs

“It isn’t a medical professional book saying ‘do this, do that’ – it’s a living, breathing survivor stating, ‘look, this is what worked for me.’…learning to trust her own intuition to purification, letting go, and not being afraid to keep fighting; after all, as she herself reinforces, ‘You’re not dead yet.”      
Reviewed by K. J. Simill,  4 Stars Readers’ Favorite

“Her story is honest, straightforward, and powerful, and many readers will be able to connect well with her experiences and how her spirit came to believe that sometimes the impossible can be made possible with the way we think.”
Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan 4 Stars Readers’ Favorite

“Lynda’s focus on the emotional side of the battle against any disease is a very vital one, if you are not in the right state of mind, the doctors’ efforts to save you might all be in vain. Her emphasis on the need to always listen to your body and not ignore any warning signs made this a compelling read.”
Reviewed by Faridah Nassozi  4 Stars Readers’ Favorite

Mea culpa to anyone I may have offended in the writing of my personal story. I hope one day you will understand I wrote what was in my heart with love and gratitude for the life I’ve been blessed to live.

5star-shiny-hr PRINT

 

 

Wow! A Must Read Book 5 Stars +

Amazon, there should be a button for 5 STARS +
It’s impossible to explain why this book is so well done. You must read it.
I live with a very positive viewpoint and don’t like to relive the past. But if we are going to heal, and help others know they are not alone, we must write our stories. I read this book on a flight from Paris to Mexico City. It was rather embarassing to keep wiping my eyes for most of the book.
Thank you Gwendolyn M. Plano. I know it’s difficult to write such personal things. But as I said when I wrote my story, if we can help even one person then it’s very worthy.
If I could give more stars, I would.
Yes, it’s a story of abuse…but it’s a story of our “collective abuse” and a must read by everyone.
Letting Go Into Perfect Love: Discovering the Extraordinary after abuse.
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My linking isn’t working this morning… It must be my jet-lagged-mind!

Meet #RWISA Author Stephanie Collins

 

Guilt, Shame & Fear

By Stephanie Collins

“I can’t stand the feeling of being out of control, so I’ve never had any interest in trying drugs or alcohol,” I mused.

“You sure seemed to have an interest when you were younger,” Dad informed me. He responded to my perplexed look before I had a chance to deny his claim. “What? You don’t remember trying pot? Let’s see. It was about 1975. That would have made you five, right? I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a summer afternoon. I walked into the living room and found you with a bong in one hand and a beer in the other. You just looked up at me, glassy-eyed, with a smile on your face and said, ‘Hi, Dad.’ You don’t remember that?”

“Uh…no!”

“Ha! Do you remember the massive headache you had the next day? You hated life that day! I told you not ever to do it again…and you never did,” he reminisced in a tone laced with humor and pride.

It was after that conversation when I really began to question my apparent lack of childhood memories. I have next to no memory of life before the divorce of my parents (when I was eight) and precious few afterward.

My parental split also marks the onset of memories of the “secret playtime” I shared with Dad. I remember realizing that what was happening to me was wrong (to a certain extent, anyway), but Dad really missed Mom. I felt proud to be there for him in his time of grief and loneliness. I had many roles as the oldest daughter. I got my toddler sister to bed on time, scolded her when I found her drinking a beer (that one I do have a vague memory of), and I cleaned the house. Those “more intimate interactions” with Dad were just another in my list of responsibilities as I saw it.

But if Dad remembered the timeline correctly, Mom and Dad were still together when I was five. Where was Mom when her Kindergartener daughter was experimenting with drugs? Could this mean I should add neglect as a descriptor of my “chaotic” upbringing? Could it mean the molestation began earlier than I have any memory of? Does it even matter at this point?

For a time, I was skeptical if someone told me s/he didn’t have sexual abuse in their background. It seemed it was everywhere. I ran a support group in a junior high school when getting my psychology degree. It was for eighth-grade girls, and the only qualifier for an invitation to the group was poor school attendance. After a few weeks of meetings, I opened a session with – innocently enough – “So, how was everyone’s weekend?” One girl immediately began to cry. She explained she had confronted her parents over the weekend with the news that her brother had sexually abused her for years. She had come forward out of fear for the niece her brother’s girlfriend had just given birth to. That student’s admission led to the revelation that six of the seven of us in our circle that day had a history of sexual abuse.

My best friend in college was gang-raped in high school. My college boyfriend was [brutally] raped by a neighbor as a child. Maybe the most disturbing situation I heard about was when I was a senior in high school. I had befriended a freshman. She came to me one day, inconsolable. She was petrified, as she was positive she was pregnant. I tried to calm her with reassuring words, then asked, “Have you told [your boyfriend] yet?” She burst into a fresh bout of tears. When she was finally able to speak again, she confessed in an agonized whisper, “I can’t! It’s not his. It’s…it’s my uncle’s, or my father’s.”

I don’t know how I thought sexual abuse was rampant all around me but had somehow left the rest of my family untouched. Soon after my first daughter was born, I learned that Dad had attempted to molest my younger sister when I was about 12 (my sister would have been 7 or 8 then). As it turns out, I disrupted the attempt when I went to inform them I had just finished making breakfast. I learned of that incident because our [even younger] step sister had just pressed charges against Dad for her sexual abuse from years earlier. He served four years.

Incidentally, that family drama enlightened me to the fact that my grandmother had been abused by a neighbor. My aunt had been abused by her uncle. I wonder if Dad had been sexually abused, too (in addition to the daily, brutal physical abuse I know he suffered at the hands of my grandfather).

As with most survivors of abuse from a family member, I am full of ambiguity and conflict. I am glad Dad was educated to the error of his ways. I’m satisfied he paid for his crimes. I’m relieved the truth came out. I hate that the truth came out. I mourn for the shell of a man who returned from prison. I weep for a family that was blown apart by the scandal. I am heartbroken for my grandmother, who was devastated by the whole ordeal. I am thankful I live 3000 miles away from my family, so I don’t have to face the daily small-town shame they all do, now that Dad is a registered sex offender. I am proud of my step sister for speaking up. I am woefully ashamed for not having the courage to do it myself, which possibly would have prevented the abuse of others after me. I love my father. I am thankful for the [many] great things he has done for me over the years. I hate the effect his molestation had on me, including the role it likely played in my high school rape by another student, and my first [abusive, dysfunctional] marriage.

As I’ve clearly demonstrated, my story is far from unique. Heck, it’s not even remotely severe or traumatic when compared to what others have survived. Still, here I am – 40 years after my first memories of molestation – and I’m still suffering the consequences. Along with my disgrace for allowing others to be abused after me, I carry incredible shame for my involvement in the acts (regardless of the decades of therapy that advise me I had no real power or choice in the matter). I carry unbelievable guilt for the strain my history places on my relationship with my husband. He’s an amazing, wonderful, loving man, who deserves nothing less than a robust, vigorous, fulfilling sex life, but gets – to the best of my ability – a [hopefully] somewhat satisfying one. I carry secret embarrassment over the only real sexual fantasy I have – that of reliving my rape and [this time] taking great pleasure in castrating the bastard in the slowest, most brutally savage way imaginable.

Heaviest of all, I carry fear. There’s nothing I can do to change my past. All I can do is work toward preventing the continued cycle of abuse. I may have a warped view of personal boundaries, I may struggle with my sexuality, and I may be somewhat unfamiliar with healthy family dynamics, but I can do all in my power to ensure my kids fare far better than me. I fear failure.

My eldest daughter has mild to moderate developmental delay. While statistics for sexual abuse in the general population is scary enough, the likelihood of abuse when a cognitive disability is involved is all but a certainty. My second daughter is non-verbal, non-ambulatory, and severely mentally delayed. She’s a prime candidate for abuse. What if my efforts to protect them fall short?

My [teenaged] son and my youngest [“tween”] daughter both have ADHD. Impulse control is a constant struggle for them both. What if the education, counseling, advice, and coaching I offer them about healthy relationships, sexuality, safety and personal responsibility aren’t enough?

I try to counteract these lingering after effects of abuse by remaining ever thankful for the love, good fortune, and beautiful life I share with my husband and children today, but my guilt, shame, and fear cling to me with tenacious persistence.

I am just finishing “It Begins And Ends With Family” by Jo Ann Wentzel. I highly recommend the read. The subject is foster care, but no conversation about foster children is complete without a discussion of child abuse and neglect. While we can debate the best course of action in helping abused children, the top priority must be to work toward a goal of prevention; to break the cycle of abuse. I am hopeful that – as a society – we can work together to empathize, educate, support, counsel, and care enough to stop the cycle of all abuse. If sharing my truth will help toward that goal, well…Here I am. This is my truth.

 

 

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Stephanie Collins

Welcome #RWISA Author Jeff Haws

 

DIM LIGHT BREAKS

by Jeff Haws

Jolting upright, I squeeze the Jack Daniels bottle between my thighs just before it tips over to the floor. I look down and see the black label staring at me; the little bit of whiskey that’s left is tilting toward the lip, ready to fill my shoes if my legs can’t hold onto it. I briefly wonder if this is why they give these bottles flat sides, for better drunken, convulsive thigh catches. It’s saved me on more than one occasion from having shoes full of whiskey. Well, that and my ability to leave the bottle mostly empty.

I grab the top of the bottle and pull it back up, then try to raise my head; the room rotates quickly, lights blur and walls smudge while my head bounces on a neck that refuses to carry the weight. Enough of these nights will teach you the chair is always your better bet than the bed. I’d have already puked into my own lap if I’d been in bed, but keeping your feet on the floor helps ground you against the worst of the drunken spinning head. When I know I’m spending the night with Jack, I’ll always stay downstairs in the recliner with my feet firmly planted on the linoleum.

My head bobs left and settles on my shoulder; in front of me, the window reveals a purple sky with a sliver of dim light peeking over the ground, between the neighbors’ houses across the street. What does that make it? 6:30, maybe? I can’t remember if I ever fell asleep. I’m not confident I’ll ever fall asleep again.

The people across the street, though—I’m sure they’re asleep. Spencer and Mary are in bed right now, dead to the world. Her head’s probably resting on his fucking shoulder. He snores a little bit, but she’s used to it by now. Probably even comforts her, just being reminded he’s there. I fucking hate those people. I really do. Their whole lives are based around creating these perfect little characters so the rest of us feel even shittier about our own lives. But you can’t even get mad at them, or you look like the jackass who’s jealous and screwed up in the head. Not the people who pretend they’re something they’re not. No, it’s the guy who minds his own business and is genuine about who he is who’s the fucked-up one. That’s the way the world works.

I spin the bottle around in my hand, looking at the liquid slosh around in waves. Bubbles cling desperately to the glass walls but can’t hold on, splashing back down into the molasses-colored pool below. I raise the bottle and tilt it toward me; the whiskey burns just a bit as it hits the back of my throat, the sting helping to delay the inevitable throbbing head that’ll come next. I lift the bottle and splash the last few drops into my mouth, shaking it to make sure there’s nothing left, then drape my arm over the side of the chair and let the bottle fall to the floor with a heavy clink.

I have no idea what day it is. Am I supposed to be at work in a couple of hours? When every day’s the same, it’s hard to say. Time is just change, in the end. If the sun didn’t come up and go down, the Earth didn’t rotate, the world never changed, there’d be no way to measure it. Essentially, there’d be no such thing as time. People’s lives can get like that too. When the days start blending together, how do you measure time? And, even more so, what’s the point?

That sun that’s gradually getting closer to showing itself isn’t going to bring anything good with it. The dark is better. You can hide when everybody else is sleeping. You don’t have to look at how your neighbors’ lives reflect your own inadequacies. You don’t have to face yourself. The dark lets you be alone, lets you wallow and embrace whatever misery is there to be embraced. The morning just exposes it all to those smiling faces with white teeth all lined up in a row.

I know they don’t approve of me. I see them at church and they say hi, but you can see it’s forced. There’s no small talk. No more invitations to their lake house. Just hollow greetings if they can’t avoid me. When Adrian would show up with fresh cuts and bruises on her arms, I know they suspected something. I think she purposefully tried to make them just a little visible. A small cry for help, maybe. She’s been gone awhile, though.

Now, God wouldn’t approve of what I’ve become. This withering mass that passes the hours of insomnia with liquor straight from the bottle. He can smell the whiskey on my breath just like the neighbors can. I don’t even know why I go to church anymore when I can remember it’s Sunday. He can see my heart’s not there, that I wish I could have a handle of some devil’s water with me when I’m kneeling in front of a pew. It’s not that I don’t have faith that there’s someone in control; it’s that whoever that someone is has delivered me into this reality, this life. Whatever this is. Becoming an atheist almost seems redundant. When your belief is this tainted, is it even worth the bother of leaving behind?

I figure I’ve been strapped to this chair long enough, so maybe I’ll wander upstairs. I have blackout curtains in the bedroom; I can shut the world out up there. Pretend I’m somewhere else, somewhere better. Somewhere new. There’s no way I’m stepping foot outside today.

Standing up, I get a feel for just how much I really drank; my legs nearly buckle, and I fall back toward the chair. My hand catches on the chair’s arm and stabilizes me while I try to forget about the merry-go-round in my head. Ten seconds pass, then twenty. Finally, I lift my hand off the chair arm and pause to see if I can stand up. My legs wobble but hold; slowly, I bring my hand further up from the chair and straighten from my hunch. My arms are spread to my sides like I’m on a balance beam, trying to keep my center of gravity above my feet. I take one careful step forward, then another, deliberate, slow, momentum building as I reach the banister for the stairs and grab ahold hard.

Each step is becoming a little easier, now getting help from my left hand, pulling my body up the stairs one foot at a time, finally reaching the hall. I’ll need an aspirin or four before I lie down. If I’m lucky, I’ll sleep. If not, I’ll stare at the ceiling in the dark for awhile.

I open the door to the room and step through; the bed is just a few steps in front of me. I walk quietly to it and stop, bending carefully over the mattress. I pull back the quilt a little bit and bend further, kissing her forehead gently. She’s only six, and she deserves me to be better than this. It’s kind of amazing we’ve made it this far; she believes her mom is someplace better, and I do nothing to dissuade her from that. Hell, I hope she’s right. But if so, I can’t join her there now. There’s more for me to do. If there is a god, this is the one lifeline he’s thrown me, and I’m clutching to it with everything I have. She’ll get me to the other side of this. She’ll be the light breaking through the dark. It’s dim now, but it’ll shine brighter if I can rise with it.

I pull the quilt back up under her chin and fold it back across her shoulder. Then I back out the way I came and shut the door behind me, careful not to let the latch click. My bedroom’s down the hall, and more darkness still awaits.

 

 

 

 

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:  Jeff Haws