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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When 'Jack Reacher' became my hero. A reflection on writing to heal (2)

Part 2

My husband, a writer in his spare time, finds passion in mystery.  I like his refined writing and the meticulous details in his novels.  Yet, I had a feeling of queasiness in my stomach the first time I read a murder scene on his published novel "Confirmation Bias".  Something made me feel uneasy. 
I am not into horror scenes, I thought. That explains it! I tried to convince myself.
During a writers conference my husband and I attended last year, we had the pleasure to hear David Morrell’s presentation.  David Morrell  is the award-winning author of First Blood, the novel in which "Rambo" was created.  Mr. Morrell was an excellent speaker, able to motivate the audience, especially when he started to link his writing to his personal experiences.  He spoke the connection between his character (Rambo) and his own life.  I listened without blinking. 

“We all are damaged. We write to heal,” were David’s powerful words.
Then, on a review about Mr. Morrell’s work, I found an interesting comment. 
“Anyone who studies David’s work will uncover certain themes—the search for father figures and the unveiling of murky pasts, perhaps as a fictionalized way of searching for the truth in David’s own past.” (K.J. Howe)
The writers conference brought me into an interesting reflection where writing began being more than a fun, creative activity, or a profession.  I started to think more seriously about the therapeutic component in writing. Writing as a therapy, not limited to journaling—which is a tool often recommended by psychologists and counselors.  On a much larger spectrum, novels, short stories, poetry, and memoirs can have a significant healing effect on the writer.
I found it interesting that Mr. Morrell made a reference to best-seller, Lee Child, expressing admiration for his work, and especially alluding to “Jack Reacher,” Lee Child’s fictional character starring in his series books. 
During an interview with Lee Child regarding the difficulty to write his first book and how long it took him, he said:  “I just played a psychological trick on myself... It took five months and it was really not difficult.  I was in such a sort of burning rage about everything, I was just full of energy and it came quickly.”
Curious about Lee Child’s best-selling thriller series, that’s when I started reading one of his novels during a vacation in Jamaica last year.  Laying on the beach, abandoned to the pleasure of reading, repressing any current worries, I engaged in the plot.  It seemed like a fascinating read from page one.  I was captivated by the story and charmed by Jack Reacher.  But the entertainment suddenly turned into an appalling feeling.  My uneasy feelings of when I read the murder scene of my husband’s novel returned at a twist in the story.

Jack Reacher’s terrifying discovery was that his brother had been murdered.  Jack became outraged, revealing mixed feelings—sadness, guilt and anxious desires of revenge.  I found it a dreadful scene, negatively affecting me as if it was real.  I lacked understanding of what was happening to me.

It's just a novel, a work of fiction, after all. I scowled in disappointment. Why is it causing me emotional pain?  

Rather than putting the book down, I took a deep breath and continued reading.  The suspense as to how Jack would look for revenge got me a bit obsessed about the unfolding story. 
And clenching my teeth, I hoped the crime would be punished.  
I took a break when it was close to lunch time.  I rested the book on my lap, and looked at the horizon with inquisitive mind.  Why was Jack Reacher becoming my hero? 
Deeply absorbed in thought, I felt I came now with the right question, and would hopefully arrive at the right answer. 
What makes me different from the average Lee Child’s reader?  I asked myself. 
Then a vivid image flooded my mind, a horrific one: my cousin’s murder.

Update 3/3/12
I was pleasantly surprised to found out that this post has been shared on the Jack Reacher Chronicles Facebook page and Reacher Chronos

Monday, February 27, 2012

When 'Jack Reacher' became my hero. A reflection on writing to heal (1)

Due to its length, this post will be published in three parts. Look for Part 2 on Wednesday, and Part 3 on Friday. 

Part 1

“Ms. Denniston, do you have any children?” I asked as I was interviewing my new resident.  Regardless of that information being a component of my social services assessment, I always feel the genuine interest in getting to know my nursing home residents.  So, I was eagerly waiting for her answer.
“I have two children, my daughter Cheryl, and my son Robert,” Ms. Denniston replied, with a gentle voice.  I extended my pause, as I noticed she gestured like if she wanted to continue talking. “I have a deceased son.”
I remained quiet.  Sometimes it saddens me when a resident tells me about the loss of a child.  Parents are not supposed to outlive their children, always comes to my mind.  But what I had no idea was of what Ms. Denniston was about to announce. 
“He was murdered at age 22.” 
I felt as though her words had sent shivers down my spine.  I have learned of residents losing their children due to an accident or an illness, or even in one case, the son had committed suicide, but this was the first time I learned of a resident’s child being murdered.
Ms. Denniston glanced at me with her deep blue eyes, patiently waiting for my next question.  She was in her eighties, and expected to be in the nursing home for rehab only, no more than two or three weeks.  She seemed confident and calm enough that I decided not to go further into her unfortunate life event—not at this time anyway.

I was grateful I’d have the time to digest the information, and second, to build rapport with my resident, before exploring the impact of her tragedy and grief. 

After I left work, I immersed in my own thoughts about the subject—murders.  I went back to a reflection I had sometime in recent months.  
All started one day when I was avidly reading a mystery novel authored by Lee Child.  I found myself indulging in the undaunted adventures of Jack Reacher, the main character.
Suddenly, I felt like if Jack Reacher started becoming my hero.
I wondered if I was losing my mind since murder mysteries haven’t been priority in my reading preferences.  At that point, I knew I needed to ponder over the subject a little deeper. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

I've received this award from  Writer and Editor Lillie Ammann .

VBA winners

Thank you, Lillie, not just for the award, but for being an inspiration to everyone of us.

If you aren't familiar with Lillie's site (www.lillieammann.com), please stop by and enjoy reading her posts, and about her life and work.  Lillie's career as a business owner took a turn when she suffered a stroke.  After two years, Lillie recovered and started her life dream of writing.  Lillie has now published two novels and a writing guide, and works as a freelancer and editor.

Now I'm passing this award to seven fantastic bloggers:

1. Myriam at A Plain Observer
2. Patti at The New Sixty
3. Linda at Apropos
4. K. at K.Tree, CNA
5. Lee at his new blog Wrote By Rote
6. Elaine at My Next 20 Years of Living
7. Dr. Kathy at Living Fully in Midlife and Beyond

Please pay them a visit and wish them a marvelous week!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Queen

“I don’t have to cook, clean, do laundry, pay bills...” Lucille counted on her fingers the verbs, her lips curving into a mischievous smile.  After a brief pause, she opened her arms and her voice echoed throughout the hall, "I’m living the life of Riley!” 
It was no surprise to other residents or to the staff.  “Living the life of Riley” was Lucille’s daily motto.  She was the most confident lady I’d met in a nursing home.  Lucille walked graciously, not without effort to dissimulate her afflicting leg arthritis.  Although the physical therapist had suggested she use a walker, Lucille was determined she didn’t need it. 
Lucille went out often, three or four times a week.  Her outing schedule included lunches at the senior center, visits to the local library, and meetings and religious services at her church.  Lucille had friends coming to pick her up, and once a week, she rode a public transportation vehicle for seniors and disabled people. 
“She’s a busy woman,” Carolyn, another long-term resident, commented, with a hint of disdain.  It was no secret either that Carolyn was often jealous of Lucille’s social life and popularity.
Carolyn was a fairly wealthy lady, visited by her three children, all highly educated with successful careers.  What Carolyn knew little of was Lucille’s past.

Lucille lived with her son for several years, before she came to the nursing home.  Reportedly, Lucille’s son was an alcoholic who wouldn’t normally sustain a job.  He was essentially living off his mother’s social security.  Lucille took care of their apartment—cleaning, cooking, and doing everything needed for the two to survive. 

Lucille’s health deteriorated to the point that she was hospitalized.  Apparently, she wouldn’t initially go to see a doctor.  During her hospitalization, it was discovered that Lucille’s son had been verbally abusive to her.  This abuse emotionally affected her, rendering Lucille intimidated to disclose any information.  Much of the initial information came from neighbors that were interviewed.  Adult Protective Services got involved in the case, and Lucille explained to that she had to be in a place where she could receive the care she needed. That’s when Lucille agreed to come to our nursing home. 
It took Lucille some time to adjust to her new living arrangements, and for her health to improve.  She still needed close monitoring with her blood pressure, pain issues and cardiac problems.  By looking at Lucille, not many people would guess she had multiple health challenges.  She often donned nice outfits and jewelry.  She visited the beauty shop once in a while.  Every morning, Lucille volunteered to go to the rehab gym to work out.  She loved the NuStep machine.  
Lucille’s son stayed away from her, although it was found out that Lucille sometimes talked with him on the phone, and even mailed to him part of her $30 she received monthly as her Medicaid allowance. Nothing we could do about that—Lucille knew the “Residents Rights” very well, and she loved her son, regardless. 
“Our facility has signed up for the nursing home beauty pageant in the state,” the facility’s administrator announced in our morning meeting.  “I’d like everyone to help in the election of our candidate.”
It took a few meetings with residents to discuss and elect candidates.  After a few weeks of debate and work, Carolyn and Lucille were the most optioned residents for the pageant.  After an arduous campaign, Lucille was the chosen candidate. 
Lucille was more vibrant than ever!  Although she was normally gleeful, that day, at the Nursing Home Beauty Pageant, she shone like a star.  Prideful and confident, she stood on the stage, answering questions and speaking with eloquent words and witty remarks. 
“I’m living the life of Riley!” I heard Lucille exclaim, followed by an avalanche of cheers and claps from the audience. 
An elongating suspense waved in the air when it was time for the announcement of the winner.  My heart pounded as Lucille’s name echoed through the speaker:
Lucille was the Beauty Queen!
An euphoric applause filled the auditorium.  My co-workers and I impulsively rose to our feet, frantically jumping and dancing in celebration.  I wiped away tears from my eyes, as it was an emotional moment.  From all the nursing home participants in the state, Lucille was now The Queen. Our queen, beautiful inside and out.  The celebration was extended in the facility and in the local community for several weeks. 
The following year, Carolyn was our beauty pageant candidate.  But luck was not on her side.  Beauty radiates from the soul,  I mused.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Unsolicited Mail

No longer at this address.  Return to sender, I wrote on a large, colorful envelope addressed to Barbara, my friend and ex-resident of the nursing home where I work as the social worker.  Since Barbara moved out of the nursing home, a jewelry company from which she once purchased a pair of earrings and a necklace, kept sending her catalogs and a variety of advertisements in the mail.  
Initially, I brought this mail to Barbara, as I often stopped by her apartment to visit her.  
“Don’t bother to bring me that company’s mail. Just discard it,” Barbara instructed. 
I did, but the mail continued.  I started sending it back,  only to continue coming to the nursing home. 
“Barb, what are we going to do with that jewelry company?”  I brought up the subject during one of my visits.  “They are still sending you that junk mail.” 
“Oh dear!”  Barbara’s voice sounded exasperated.  “I will call them.”
But the jewelry company’s mail continued being delivered to the nursing home.
“Did the obnoxious mail stop?”  Barbara inquired during a phone conversation.
“I’m afraid not,” I replied, disappointed.  “I guess we just have to continue sending it back.”
Barbara made no further comments about it, and I eventually forgot about the issue.
Months later, as Barbara and I met for breakfast at the retirement community where she lived, I noticed a playful grin on her face.
“I guess I haven’t gotten any more mail from that jewelry company, have I?”  Barbara flashed a crooked smile. 
“Hmm.” I frowned, trying to decipher some kind of plot I sensed. “Now that you mention it... No, I haven’t seen any more mail from that company.”
Barbara laughed. 
I glared at Barbara, puzzled.  “What did you do to stop it?”
“Well, I called the company and told them I was Barbara’s daughter, and that I wanted to notify them that she had passed away.”  Barbara winked.  “I told them they might want to remove her from their mailing list.”
“Oh my goodness! Seriously?”  I laughed loudly.
“Do you want to know what they said?”  Barbara continued talking, narrowing her eyes.
I nodded, still laughing hysterically.  
“That they were very sorry for my loss.” 
I laughed until my ribs hurt. 
“That’s funny, Barb...” I sipped iced-water, glancing at Barbara’s shiny earrings and necklace over the rim of my glass.  “Very funny!”