What’s it all about? And why would anyone want to read it? Well, let me try to explain without losing your interest too quickly. Basically, it’s all about me. Shameless self-promotion: of my writing, of my novels:
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? and Reis's Pieces, of my amazing ability to come up with clever captions on photos of my travels . . . And also, a blatant representation of my stupidity when it comes to spelling, editing, and computer-type stuff.

My debut novel:
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar Disorder was released in September of 2010. My second novel: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, was released May, 2012!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Broken Cookies

We sit around in a semi-circle and drink our coffee or dip our tea bags, and break our cookies or pull our pastry into ever smaller pieces. Every once in awhile a piece finds its way into one of our mouths. All of us are there for the same reason: to talk, to share, and to know -- most of all -- that in all this madness, we are not alone. I go almost every month as is my right as a proud graduate of a family support and training class taught here in Syracuse. And as a graduate of this twelve week class teaching people how to cope with their loved one’s serious mental illness, I am now part of a community of family members who live with, on a daily basis, the absurdity and the heartbreak of mental illness.

Tonight it is a relatively small group. Perhaps ten of us in all; and we begin, one by one, to share with the group our loved one’s newest tragedies or triumphs. And it’s the usual fare of worry and frustration and disappointment, mixed with tiny slices of hope and pride and acceptance.

Back in the corner sits a woman who I do not know. She sits alone and listens and writes and every once-in-awhile slips the sweet offerings of a cookie between her lips. We are making a somewhat organized trip around the table and when it appears to be her turn to talk, Sheila, our moderator, asked, “So, how’s your husband?” Her husband has bipolar disorder. This woman looks up from the broken pieces of her cookie and says as clear as day, “He’s doing pretty good, but he’s the least of my problems.” We wait a beat then Sheila asked, “And your brother, the one with Huntington’s disease, how is he doing?” “Well, he’s having some difficulty with his breathing and muscle control, but he’s the least of my problems.” We wait a beat then Sheila asks kindly, “Well, then, what is your problem?” There’s the slightest shift of this woman’s face, a movement of her hands towards her mouth and then she slaps us with her pain. “It’s my son. He killed himself. Yesterday.” And we are all punched neatly in the gut, our collective gasps filling the room, mixing with her sorrow; and we are all reminded how it could easily be any one of us saying these words. He hung himself. In the basement. He was twenty years old.

Suicide. Leaving behind a storm surge of devastation. The eighth leading cause of death in the US. The third leading cause of death between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four years of age. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that the vast majority of people (90%) who commit suicide have a mental illness, substance abuse disorder or both. Treatable disorders. Approximately twenty-five percent of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide. Ten percent succeed. Strong words, powerful numbers, but what does any of it mean? And how do we weaken the words, decrease the numbers?

The key words: treatable disorders. Depression. Bipolar disorder. Substance abuse. Schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder. All treatable.

Many individuals struggling with these disorders do not seek help due a plethora of reasons: stigma, discrimination, ignorance, lack of insurance coverage, lack of insight, embarrassment, fear . . .

If you find yourself wondering, “Is he suicidal? Would he ever take his life?” then the answer is, most likely, yes. Ask him. Then act. Seek help. Bring mental illness out into the open. Talk. Educate. Advocate.

As the meeting breaks up, I find myself out in the hallway alone with the mother of this dead boy. I hug her and tell her, “Good luck.” I hope the hug will makeup for the stupidity of my words. Good luck? And then she tells me of her child’s last act of kindness before he chose to take his own life. He’d heard a small noise in the shed outback. He carefully searched, removing things slowly, until finally he unearthed three tiny kittens. The mother cat was found dead by the road. He took these tiny creatures to the zoo and they were cared for and they lived. And I picture these three young cats living their lives as we should all live our lives -- squinting their eyes to the pleasure of the day and embracing each and every moment as a gift.

For more information:



National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Family to Family: http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Family-to-Family&lstid=605

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rambling Thoughts on a Train

Here I am, leaving Syracuse in a weak and unimpressive February sunrise, on my way to New York City. The train moves slowly through the bowels of Syracuse, causing no one the desire, or uncontrollable urge, to leap from the train as we pass: the backend of struggling factories, empty grey parking lots -- a fresh layer of white snow scraped clean from the grey, abandoned semi-tractor trailer beds, trash containers, the chain linked back yards of people’s homes with remnants of last summer’s games and gardens -- rusty swing sets with snow laden slides, shriveled droopy heads of sunflowers. The train horn blares gently, “Here I come!”

And I, feeling the queasy nervousness of anticipation. Flipping somewhere between: a giddy Mary Tyler Moore -- wanting to leap up from my seat, throw my hat in the air and sing, “She’s going to make it after all!” -- twirling, my hands extended from my body, scarf swirling, until I fall; and an agoraphobic Emily Dickinson, wanting to run to the tiny washroom and cram myself between the toilet and the wall and scream, “Why? Why am I doing this?”

But as the train picks up speed and the landscape changes to snow covered trees and wind swept fields, I know that I am traveling over eleven hours on a train for a two hour meeting, not only so that I can say, “I’m going to New York City to meet with my publisher!” but also because I want to see the man who will take my words and turn them into something that a stranger can pick up, read and be moved.

Oh this meeting has been a long time coming. Its possibility easing into existence sometime over ten years ago when I woke up and suddenly decided, in celebration of my mid-life crisis, that I could and would write. Those of you who write, know, all too well, that this was a wonderful, and very foolish, decision. If I had been a man, I would have made the much more reasonable decision to take on a young lover. Because little did I know that writing was a lover that would give and give, then take and take. A lover needing constant attention and constant feedback. “Was it as good for you as it was for me? “Would other’s be pleased, or do I please only you?” “Read me! Read me! Let my words slip across your body and caress your soul.”

So here I am, the soft blare of the train whistle, the gentle rumble of the tracks, following the rough icy texture of the Hudson River towards New York City to meet this young man that I have danced with through a multitude of e-mails.

First the query: “I’ve written a good book. Would you like to read it?” “Send the first 50 pages.” “Of course! Here you go.” And I wait by the gymnasium wall -- “Will he ask for another dance? Maybe this time something longer and slower . . .” I wait. And finally, “Send along the entire manuscript, will you?” I do. I wait again; living my life as if I’m not waiting for a train to leap upon, or in front of, as the case may be. Then, finally, the e-mail, “We like your book.”

Then the dance becomes something real and mutually satisfying; and ten years and a million words later, I am on my way to meet this man to sign my name to a piece of paper that solidifies and legitimizes my affair with words, so that I can and will continue to write. And I can, and I will, continue to move through the countryside on the slow moving train of my dreams and of my desires; and celebrate the gentle toot of, “Here I come!”

The Birds

Although I do not, by any sense of the term, consider myself a “birder”, when you're in places such as Belize or kayaking in a calm beautiful lagoon in Mexico (zoekayaktours@gmail.com -- great tour, if you're in Ixtapa), the birds shove their beauty in your face and you can not help but to be awed. Here are few examples of the beauty and wonderment birds add to the world:

Roseate Spoonbill

Great Egret


Collared Aracari

Northern Jacana


Immature Great Blue Heron

Red-lored Parrot

Black-necked Stilt


Friday, February 12, 2010

Full Moon Over the Caribbean

These were taken on a night as light as day, where a soft breeze caressed the palms and moon shadows stretched across the sand.