Mental Health & the Media or I Told You So!

This article was posted on Facebook by World Bipolar Day.  It conveys the message I have been preaching since I wrote Defective.  The media feeds the stereotyping of the mentally ill.  We are not just our diagnosis!

Kudos to Kristin Fawcett for writing it.

“Unless you majored in psychology or attended medical school, chances are the bulk of your knowledge about mental illness comes from the newspapers you read, the television shows you watch and the movies you see. Studies indicate that mass media is one of the public’s primary sources of information about disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia and depression.”   Continue reading…

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/04/16/how-mental-illness-is-misrepresented-in-the-media

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Passwords, Post-it-Notes & The Black Hole

Passwords—I hate them.  Every six months or so, Pini nags me about changing our passwords. This would be a reasonable request—if he bothered to memorize the ones I created after his last lecture on cyber security.  He claims I lack a system for password maintenance, which is so untrue.  Every single password I create is immediately scrawled onto a Post-It-Note and stuck to the wall beside my monitor. I never said it was a good system, but you can’t argue that it is, in fact, a system. istock-post-it-notes1 The squares of paper inevitably fall to the floor behind my desk—the Sofayov version of a black hole.  Once that tiny yellow square of paper hits the floor, it throws me into the cycle, create a new password, write it on a Post-It-Note, stick to the wall, fall into the black hole behind the desk—lather, rinse, repeat. Years ago, pre-major brain altering medication and pre-menopause, I could remember my passwords.  (Yes, I know the dark ages of the Internet. When only one password mattered.  The one the nice man asked for after telling me “You’ve got mail.”)
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Then the cyber criminals came along.  Forget identity theft, now I have to create passwords that contain numbers. I can barely remember my home phone number.  As for adding symbols, I’ve picked my favorite, and I’m sticking with it until they create a symbol representing a frustrated woman, thumbing her nose at the computer screen. Sorry, for the rant.  But I think I’ve found a solution.  Today I’m going on Ebay to search for a Rolodex.  A lot of you older folks will remember those—cards stuck into a thingy with a knob on the side.  Spin the knob…  (Forget it, just see below.)

rolodex2 I’m creating a special card for each website, just the basics, web address, title, log in ID and password.  It will sit next to my monitor, within easy reach.  Also, I’ve decided to ignore Pini, who insists that:  A. The computer replaced the Rolodex.   B. The problem isn’t passwords, just my inability to organize anything to his standards.  (He hates piles and loves folders.) I’m hoping this will work because, I’ve run out of letter, number, symbol combinations.  All those brains in Silicon Valley should be able to come up with a better way.  So, until then, any organizational suggestions would be appreciated.  -s

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Punctuation and Holidays

Last week, I spent four days in the Lehigh Valley attending a writer’s conference and hanging out with my old college roommate.  I arrived home late Tuesday afternoon and immediately went into Passover cleaning overdrive.

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As I scrubbed, vacuumed and dusted, I started thinking that holidays are a bit like a period at the end of the sentence.  A writer crafts a sentence by stringing together words to create flow, clarity, and hopefully meaning.  Once satisfied with the way the sentence reads the writer types in the period.  This small act provides a brief moment of satisfaction over the creation of the sentence—a moment when the writer sits back and enjoys the completion.

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 It seems to me that the holidays are the periods in our lives.  The days leading up to them are focused on planning, cleaning and cooking.   But these acts alone do not give the holiday meaning.  Like the writer crafting the sentence, the meaning is in the word choices.

My favorite holiday memory is of the year a huge storm blew out our electricity hours before the start of Sukkot.   The stove and oven were electric; it would have been rather rude to serve raw chicken and a side of uncooked rice.  I called all the guests and canceled.  My children whined with disappointment and so did my husband. Finally, an hour or so before candle lighting, my husband announced, “We have a gas grill!  Call everyone back.”  manischewitz

In the chaos of the evening, I felt pure joy watching my family pull together to create a meal for our guests.  When we finally piled into the sukkah, the food was just a trapping.  A sense of completeness emerged as I watched the results of the choices I made—choosing to convert to Judaism, choosing a wonderful husband (who could use a grill) and the children we created together.  With complete clarity, the meaning of my life surrounded me.

That’s the purpose of the holidays, a period of time to stop, enjoy and examine the flow of life, which was created through tough decisions, hard work, and often fate.  They are the period at the end of the sentence, giving us an opportunity to review what we created.  In that moment of review, we face another choice, rewrite it or declare it good and begin writing the next sentence.

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Social Media Apology

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I seriously believe people born after 1985 inherited a mutated gene that gives them an innate ability to understand the social rules of cyberspace society.  Our children may disappoint us when they text during dinner, but plenty of strangers in the cyberworld feel they have impeccable manners.  My daughter once informed me that if you don’t respond to a text immediately, it’s rude.  Better to ignore the real person than the cyberperson.

I was born in the sixties.  My generation’s first experience with technology involved a circle and spinning.  Yep, we mastered the rotary phone.   Then it was on to manually changing the buttons on the TV, which we learned only because our parents were too lazy to get off the couch and do it themselves.  By college, we mastered the cutting edge stuff—the typewriter, the stereo and burgeoning technology, the computer.  Some of our generation excelled and some of us got busy having babies and our greatest adventure in the world of technology consisted of the baby monitor and the awesome automatic baby swing.

All of our kids learned to poop in the potty, walk, talk (Unfortunately on some days.)  And then they learned to email, Tweet, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest.  As we framed their elementary school portraits, they left us in cyberdust dust, pathetically puffing our chests over the fact that we figured out how to post pictures on Facebook.

In the olden days, we made fun of moms who tried to dress and act young.  Now my kids make fun of adults who think they can keep step with social media.  (I’ll let you in on a secret.  There’s a conspiracy organized by everyone born after 1985 to make sure no mom ever, ever, catches up.)  The trouble is some of us are forced to try.

I have a book contract that requires a “presence” on social media.

I spent the weekend in the Lehigh Valley, hanging out with my college roommate, Suzanne, at a writer’s conference.  We decided to attend a session given by social media guru Kristin Lamb.  We both walked into the session, feeling rather proud of ourselves for getting the hang of Twitter and Facebook.  Neither of us really understood blogging but wanted to learn.  I walked out of that room choking on my humble pie, embarrassed to even think about logging on to Twitter ever again.  My tweets, Facebook posts and blog entries violated every rule of the social media universe. Only luck kept the social media police from arresting me for obnoxious behavior.  (As I type, Suzanne is in deep blog repair mode also.  She’s sitting across the table, huffing over her WordPress theme than refuses to bend to her will.)

The sad part is I spent hours trying to do it the right way and still screwed up—big time, spending an entire year annoying the hell out of cyber space.  So here it is folks,

I apologize.  Sincerely and thoroughly apologize.

No more marketing, no more tweets saying “buy my book, buy my book.”  From now on I’m going to use this blog to do the one thing I’ve secretly wanted to use it for but felt foolish admitting to. I’d like to make some new friends.  (That sounds pathetic, but it’s true.)

You see, I work from home, not just writing, but also, for my day job, managing rental properties. Sometimes I don’t get out of the house for days and feel really out of touch with the planet. So, let’s talk.  Want to complain about technology?  Leave a comment.  Hot flashes annoying the shit out you—vent away.  Work from home and feel lonely?  Let’s have a virtual coffee break or a glass of wine.

So, don’t buy my book, just introduce yourself through the comment box and let me know you’re out there, trying to master cyberspace, too.

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An Unhappy Anniversary

Today is the one-year anniversary of the brother’s passing.  For the last couple of days, I’ve been contemplating what I want to write on this blog.  Of course, all the clichés and metaphors come to mind, which I guess is natural because many do a good job of conveying the ache you feel, in your heart, when you lose someone you love so much.

A year, a simple 365 days from the day we laid him to rest.  Here’s what I have to say:

It sucks.  Each and every day without my brother sucks.

When he was alive, we didn’t spend every moment together.  But every moment, consciously or unconsciously, I knew he was there.  I know. I know. He’s somewhere, watching down on me.  And I do talk to him pretty often.  The one sidedness of this air-to-alternate-realm communication leaves a lot to be desired.  I would prefer communicating through Verizon, text or talk.  Either would do.

For instance, an incident occurred when my mom and I drove to Philadelphia to pick up Emily from college.  If you don’t know my mom, let me explain.  If anything weird is going to happen—it happens to her.  While sitting at the rest stop table, she bit into a hotdog.  Suddenly, her eyes bulged and her face turned white.  As I did the Heimlich maneuver on her, only one thought filled my head.  I have to call Don.  He’s not going to believe this one.

That’s the thing about losing someone you love, whether it’s a spouse, parent or friend.  You are left behind still committed to what has become one-half of a relationship. A relationship that you most desperately don’t want to let go.    So, I will continue talking to my brother and imagine his smile when I tell him something good.  When Kerry and the kids walk into my house, I will always see him towing up the rear, wearing a baseball hat in the summer and a goofy knitted cap in the winter.

A year has passed.   Honestly, my heart hurts as much as it did on February 5, 2014.

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One More Hug

As a writer, I love words, from the funniest sounding like kerfuffle to the mundane like water.  This week I’ve been obsessing over a couple of words, beginning with the word sibling.  It’s such a cold, sterile sounding word, perfect for doctor forms, college applications, and census forms.  Think about it.  No one has ever said, “I hugged my sibling.”  You hug a brother or you hug a sister.

Jealousy is another awful word, but I spend a lot of time these days experiencing it.  No, I don’t care what kind of car you drive.  You live in a humongous house—good for you.  Those jeans you’re wearing are a size six.  I’ll toast you with wine and ice cream.  My jealousy travels on a different path.  I envy your ability to hug your brother.  I can’t.  But I would give every dime I have or ever will have, for just a few more moments of time with him.

It irritates the shit out of me to hear people tell stories, edged with pride, of how they haven’t spoken with their brother/sister in X amount of years, because he/she, insert reason here.  Ninety-nine percent of the time the inciting incident is stupid—failed to pay back loans, insulted kid, or jealousy…  Yes, there are the extreme situations such as abuse when separation is necessary.   But today, I’m pontificating about simple disputes that take on a life of their own.

How in the hell could anyone be proud of, not speaking to the human-being who bears more in common with them than any other?  I don’t just mean genetically.

Last week, Pini and I were having coffee on the deck, engaging in our annual where-are-we-going-on-vacation disagreement, which brought up the subject of Florida.  I launched into the story of my dad loading my mom, me and Don into my grandfather’s 1970 something, block-long bomb of a car and heading off to Florida.  At one point in the story, Pini rolled his eyes and said, “Sure.”

“Really, it’s true,” I shot back.  “Ask Don.”

We both froze.

Life passes through stages—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and hopefully very old age.  It’s only our brothers and sisters who transition through all the stages with us.  They help connect our past, present and future together.  They’re the constant, sharing traditions, beliefs and memories.  My brother remembered the simple things, like Sunday spaghetti dinners at my grandma’s house, and our grandfather’s habit of calling all his grandsons Sally and his two granddaughters Jimmy.  Don and I both loved reminiscing about the Christmas day Elvis showed up on our front porch.  He wore a purple Santa suit and gave us signed vinyl records.  Now, the last two sentences could be huge lies.  But, you’ll never know.  Don isn’t here to confirm or deny it.

Our brothers and sisters taught us to navigate the relationships we have today.  You’ve been happily married for years.  Thank your brother/sister.  All the fighting, laughing, and negotiating provided you with the skills needed to survive all relationships.  Most of us learn at a young age that the silent treatment solves nothing.  So why use it on the one person who may have the spare body part you might need someday?

On Friday, June 27, 2014, my brother would have turned forty-seven.  He liked to celebrate with simple things, beer, gummy bears, and grilling with family.  I’ve spent the week brooding and dreaming of the chance to give him one more hug.

I’ll never get what I want, so I’m going to ask you to do it for me—please.   On Friday, hug your brother or sister.  If they live far away—call, Skype, or email.  If you haven’t spoken in years, reach out.  All it takes is a simple email.  “I’m thinking of you.  Hope you are well.”  Imagine the chain of your life and fix the weak link, before it breaks completely.

Do it for me and my late, beloved brother, Donald Dobransky.

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Thomas Pynchon and Writing

I just returned from a wonderful weekend at the Pennwriter’s conference.  My thoughts are whirling with writing rules and editing advice. Since this piece is about writers, I decided to post it just for fun.  It’s the first thing I ever wrote.

Evicting Thomas Pynchon

 Dear Mr. Pynchon,

I regret to inform you that I am evicting you from my brain.  I also plan to forget that day, in 1983, we drew up your lease.  It was after a sadistic literature professor assigned the reading of The Crying of Lot 49.  That night, I opened the book, shut the book and said to my roommate, “I need a drink.”  That should have been my clue to grab some Hemingway.  Instead, I let you in and measured my intelligence against your work.

As a young college student, I dreamed of a Doctorate in Literature. But what English program would admit a student who did not grasp Sir Thomas Pynchon?  Okay, so you haven’t been knighted, but you did play a major part in my decision not to apply to graduate school.

Copies of your books line my bookshelf, except for Vineland.  You released it in the 1990s, my having babies and chasing toddlers decade.  My literary appetite leaned toward reading People magazine while standing in the supermarket checkout line.

When my oldest child entered elementary school, I set out to achieve Pynchon enlightenment.  The quest quickly morphed into a bona fide obsession that included a neurotic fixation on the mystery surrounding your whereabouts.

Luckily for me, locating you was easy.  You appeared on my porch every day at nine o’clock dressed as a mailman.  I concocted reasons to be outside when you arrived and pumped you for personal information.  Your answers were always vague, yet intelligent.  A strange combination, but it worked.  Unfortunately, the mailman theory collapsed when he died, and you published Mason Dixon. This fascination disappeared when my youngest child entered kindergarten, and I started working full-time.

On my forty-fifth birthday, convinced that I had reached an age of wisdom, I bought a used copy of Mason Dixon.  That night, curled up in my bed, I began to read.  The print was very small.  The next day, I stopped at the dollar store and bought a pair of “cheaters.”  They didn’t help.  After page two, I turned to my husband.  “I need a drink,” and popped open a bottle of Merlot.  My taste in booze had improved since college, my intellectual capacity had not.

So, good-bye Mr. Pynchon.  The dream of being an intellectual has lost its shine.  I accept that I’ll never understand what you are trying to say in Gravity’s Rainbow.  But at my age, understanding gravity is no longer abstract.  A glance in the mirror holds scientific proof that gravity is a marketing ploy for plastic surgeons.

Please, don’t feel bad, I’m also evicting Faulkner and Melville.  I thought about giving Ayn Rand the boot, but I’m not ready to let go of that steamy John Galt.

 

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Is the glass half full or half empty?

Sometimes in life the question isn’t is the glass half empty or is the glass half full.  There are times in life you have to accept that you’re facing two glasses—one is empty, and the other is full.

I’m struggling with those damn glasses right now.  On the left is a goblet that existed only in my dreams for many years.  Now it’s real, and it’s overflowing with a vivid red cabernet.  Each time I receive good news about my book, I take a sip.  Last week, a few initial reviews of DEFECTIVE came in—a 5 star and a 4.8 star.  Pretty good for a first-time author—that gulp tasted sweet.

But, as that liquid trickled down my throat, I stared at an empty Penn State mug.

Last night, we celebrated my mom’s seventy-sixth birthday.  The empty mug sat in the middle of the dining room table staring at all of us.   It used to overflow with my brother’s libation of choice, beer.  I would have gladly dumped my wine into it, and everyone else would have followed pouring the liquid from their glasses into his.

The saddest thing is watching the people you love try to rise above their pain and fail miserably.  Our family has so many things we want to be happy about.  But, last night, as we sang Happy Birthday, all we managed to do was fill the Penn State mug with tears.

We miss you, Don.

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My Book Cover

A bit of good news-my book cover.

(You’ll have to read the book to figure out what the daisies mean.)

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00002]

 

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Today

Today is my son’s sixteenth birthday.  A milestone meant to be celebrated.  After all, Ben is a gift—truly, a gift.  A few years ago he was hit by a car and Hashem let me keep him.  I give thanks for that every day.

Today is the one month anniversary of my brother’s accident.  We didn’t get to keep him.  Unfortunately, tears always seem to wash away the joy.  I wish it could be the opposite.

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